The end of inefficient lightbulbs

1 September 2009

Green groups celebrate, but warn over lack of information

Brussels, 1 September 2009 – The "Coolproducts for a Cool Planet" NGO coalition [1] welcomes the beginning of the phase-out process for incandescent lightbulbs [2], which starts today in all EU countries for lamps above 100W and ends in 2012 with lower wattage lamps. Incandescent lightbulbs are the least efficient way to produce light. Banning them is expected to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 16 million tonnes in 2020, which equals the emissions of 5 million passenger cars. The ban was decided by the European Union in 2009 under the Ecodesign of Energy-Using Products Directive.

"The European Union is right in its efforts to remove climate-killer products from the shelves. Such measures must be on top of the list of any robust and clever climate and energy policy." explains Edouard Toulouse from ECOS. "But consumer information and quality requirements have to be improved on alternative lamps, to avoid confusion and irritations."

The EU ban of incandescent lightbulbs is overly supported by the NGO coalition for its impact on CO2 emissions, but also criticised for not doing enough to reduce the toxic content and electromagnetic radiations of the current energy-saving lamps. Lamp packaging should also be improved and harmonised, to help consumers choose the right products and understand how to dispose of them properly at end of life. Lamps based on LED (light emitting diodes) are the most ecological option, and thus should be better promoted [3].

"We need additional steps on the road to energy efficient, safe and ecological lighting", adds Elena Lymberidi-Settimo from EEB's Zero Mercury Campaign. "For instance, the mercury content in the currently used compact fluorescent lamps should be lowered as much as possible (2mg per lamp), and recycling rates should be improved."

The "Coolproducts for a Cool Planet" NGO coalition also warns that this measure on lightbulbs – despite being iconic – will not be enough to solve the climate crisis. Other products, especially heating and cooling equipment for buildings (boilers, water heaters, air-conditioners), have to be tackled rapidly and ambitiously. Ecodesign measures for those products could cut Europe's CO2 emissions annually by 230 million tons by 2020, 14 times more than the ban of inefficient lightbulbs.

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NOTES TO EDITORS:

[1] The Coolproducts for a Cool Planet coalition campaigns for ambitious policies to green products, especially through the EU Ecodesign of Energy-Using Products Directive (EuP), voted in 2005, which provides the framework for setting mandatory ecological requirements for a huge range of products. The campaign includes among its founding members ECOS, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Friends of the Earth Europe, INFORSE Europe, BUND, The Netherlands Society for Nature and Environment, Green Alliance, FOCUS and other groups.
More information on this campaign is available here: http://www.coolproducts.eu, including a regular blog and a press page with a forward calendar. The technical details on the EuP policy process can be accessed here:
http://env-ngo.eup-network.de/

The EuP Directive, apart from lightbulbs, covers a variety of other products including TVs, fridges, boilers and air conditioners, and has the potential to help the EU reach up to half of its 2020 climate target of a 20% greenhouse gases reduction.

[2] Incandescent lightbulbs are the traditional bulbs with filament, the least energy efficient way of producing light. Such bulb is cheap to buy, but it is short-lived and wastes 95% of the electricity it consumes. It is overly responsible of about 50 million tons of CO2 emitted by the EU (12% of the emissions caused by household appliances).
Current available alternatives to incandescent bulbs are:
– halogen lamps: the energy performance of standard halogens is close to incandescence, relatively low. Some slightly more efficient halogens now come in classic bulb shapes for usual lamp sockets, marketed as replacement for incandescent bulbs. Some other more advanced halogen technologies also exist with a 50% improvement in energy efficiency compared to incandescent (but still not as efficient as CFLs).
– compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs): 75% more energy efficient than incandescent and long–lasting. CFLs are more expensive to buy, but can slash the electricity bill. Pay-back time is quick and consumers save money. Disadvantages: these lamps may take additional time to warm up, contain mercury (so they need to be properly recycled) and emit electromagnetic fields.
– light emitting diodes (LEDs): this very promising technology is already used for several applications like traffic signals. Lightbulbs made of LEDs cannot compete yet with the strongest lamps for high illumination, but technological improvement is foreseen and these lamps do not contain toxic substances.

[3] Many citizens still dispose of compact-fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in their general household trash bin rather than ensuring sound recycling, as they lack information on the mercury content and how to do this. More effective return systems (e.g. at the point of sale) urgently need to be established and recycling rates need to be improved.
Electromagnetic field radiations from lamps participate in the ambient electric smog that may affect our health, and should be reduced to the technically feasible minimum through legislation. Nothing is included yet in the EU legislation regarding lamps.

The information provided on lamp packaging is often not standardised, meaning that consumers experience trouble in comparing the light quality, electricity consumption, application and toxic content from one brand to the other. Retailers usually sort lamps by technology, instead of application, making also the choice difficult at the point of sale.