EU starts turning out old-fashioned light bulbs

1st September 2009, Comments 0 comments

It is all part of a three-year scheme to rid the whole of the European Union of the traditional incandescent bulbs first put on the market by Thomas Edison in 1879.

Brussels -- Tuesday marks the beginning of the end for traditional, energy-guzzling light bulbs throughout Europe, with the 100-watt and frosted bulbs the first to go.

It is all part of a three-year scheme to rid the whole of the European Union of the traditional incandescent bulbs first put on the market by Thomas Edison in 1879.

Some consumers have been stockpiling the old-style versions, aware that the more energy-efficient long-life fluorescent or halogen lamps cost more to buy.

And while shops will be allowed to sell off their remaining stocks, as of Tuesday there will be no new orders of non-transparent frosted bulbs -- deemed particularly inefficient -- or the standard clear 100-watt bulbs.

The less powerful clear bulbs will be progressively banned until all traditional lights disappear from shops in 2012.

It's all part of the EU's bigger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020.

The new bulbs, such as compact florescent lights (CFL) can save up to 80 percent of the energy used by the worst old-style lights in homes.

They are also described as lasting several times longer than the bulbs they will replace.

So even though the new bulbs cost more, the European Commission stresses that consumers will save money: between 25 to 50 euros a year, depending on the size of the household, the EU executive claims.

"Although this move has been welcome by many, some consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of giving up their familiar light bulbs in favour of modern and more efficient alternatives," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs wrote on his blog.

"Much like the car and the telephone caught on with everyone, I have no doubt that once Europeans start using the modern alternatives to the inefficient light bulbs, they will start to enjoy the advantages they have to offer," he added.

But consumer groups have already started adding health fears to existing concerns over pricing.

For while the European Consumers' Association the BEUC has welcomed the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, it has expressed concern about the high mercury content of their replacements.

The EU plan also "falls short of the needs of some consumers who need to use the old-style light bulbs for health-related reasons such as light sensitivity," the BEUC added.

The Commission argues that the new bulbs will cut mercury emissions from power stations.

But it has also published guidelines for dealing with mercury spills from broken bulbs: avoid skin contact and do not use a vacuum cleaner to clear up.

And so far as the needs of light-sensitive people are concerned, the EU executive suggests they use "improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology."

Judging from the orders received from Osram, one of the biggest light makers in Europe, people have already started buying more of the new generation bulbs.

However Alice Pirgov, an expert at the German consumer research institute (GfK) speaks of panic buying there as "the classic light bulb is associated with tradition."

The European Commission on Monday did not rule out the possibility of the old 100-watt bulbs becoming something of a collector's item and changing hands at inflated prices.


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