EU bans incandescent light bulbs
Meeting last week in Luxembourg, European Union energy ministers agreed to ban filament light bulbs across all 27 member states. The decision comes just a few days before the EU will lift duties on energy-efficient bulbs imported from China, a move that is expected to bring down their prices.
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As Popular Mechanics points out, an incandescent bulb powered by a coal-fired plant (the kind that generates half of US electricity) releases more mercury into the air than a broken CFL.
The mercury in the bulbs also presents a problem for disposal. Putting mercury into a landfill is a bad idea, as the stuff can leach into groundwater. Instead, the bulbs should be taken to a local hazardous waste disposal center.
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Already, there's been a big push to move people to CFLs, and that's created a situation where the makers of CFLs have worked hard to improve the quality of the bulbs (a big complaint) as well as add in features that used to not be found in CFLs, such as dimming. It's also pushed the makers of CFLs to find efficiencies by which they can make the bulbs cheaper. They're doing this because they know they need to compete with incandescent bulbs -- and in many cases it's working.
Yet, banning incandescents from the market place means that the makers of CFLs now have a lot less competition. They don't have to work as hard to make the lights better. They don't have to work as hard to make them more efficient and cheaper. They've basically been given a gift that means they can slow down the process of making those bulbs that much better for the environment. That seems like a mistake.
Others, such as the New Scientist's Debora MacKenzie, call the ban's emissions reductions "a drop in the bucket," pointing out that the 30 million tons of CO2 saved would be equivalent to only about half the total emissions of Sweden.
But 30 million tons is still something, and switching from filament bulbs to CFLs is a relatively painless move that will save Europeans money in the long run. And perhaps just as important, replacing the traditional bulb – an icon of the industrial era – with the curlicue fluorescent bulb signals a commitment, however symbolic, to move away from dirty 19th-century technology (a category that also includes coal plants and gasoline-powered engines) and toward a more energy-efficient future.