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Light bulb ban finds some Europeans in the dark

By Andrew Heining / September 8, 2009

A display shows a traditional light bulb (l.) and two energy-saving bulbs at a do-it-yourself store in Dortmund, Germany on August 31.

Ina Fassbender/Reuters

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Um, lighten up?

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A week after the EU's light bulb ban went into effect – traditional filament, incandescent bulbs over 100 watts may no longer be bought by retailers, though old stock may be sold until it's gone – some Europeans are hoarding – and howling.

Old habits die hard, and among the Europeans proving the saying true are patrons at Chris Abbott's "Abbott's DIY," a British hardware store with two branches. Abbott told Sky News, and the Dartmouth Chronicle reports, that:

"Everyone wants to be more environmentally friendly, but in some cases the low energy bulbs are just not suitable and until there is a viable alternative the opinion I am getting is that they should not yet be banned, until such time that there is a better quality alternative."
“In both our stores we have seen unprecedented buying of all traditional types of light bulbs, and speaking to other hardware retailers across the region they are all experiencing the same.
“But as the ban is only on import and manufacture, retailers are still allowed to sell them, so we have filled our storeroom up to bursting point so that we can continue to supply our customers for at least the next few years.”

One possible answer to the light-quality complaints: this LED-based bulb from Sharp. As design blog Inhabitat reported in June, the bulb comes with a dimmer-switch remote control that can change the output between seven shades of white. One concern it doesn't address? The cost. The Sharp bulbs cost $82 apiece.
But hoarding the old-style bulbs doesn't make much economic sense, either, government officials are saying. CFLs use significantly less energy, and immediately begin paying themselves off. The New York Times explains:

One bulb can cost €10, or $14 — or a lot more, depending on type — whereas traditional incandescent bulbs cost about 70 cents each. But E.U. officials argued that the energy savings would cut average household electricity bills by up to €50 a year, amounting to about €5 billion annually. That would help buoy the economy if consumers spent their savings, they said.

That rationale isn't swaying some Britons. They've found a loophole in the plan and are exploiting it. The new ban covers light bulbs sold for home use, but it can't touch those meant for industrial applications. As Telegraph reader Brian Rogers told the paper:

I suggest you pay a visit to your local electrical wholesaler and ask for a "rough service" lamp. These are identical to the normal ones except for slightly thicker glass envelopes and extra filament supports. They are more robust than the normal household item as their main use is in garage pit inspection lights and they need to stand up to more abuse.

The US has a similar CFL mandate going into effect in 2012. In addition to the concerns already mentioned, some in the US are decrying the health hazards of the new bulbs.

CNN, in its spectacularly headlined "The fluorescent light bulb boogeyman," points to a 2007 case in Maine, where a woman, aware that CFLs contained toxic mercury, called state officials who told her to bring in a hazardous waste cleaning crew – to the tune of $2,000. That advice was given before an official policy on CFL disposal was implemented, Maine officials told CNN, and users are no longer advised to call in the troops in hazmat suits when a bulb breaks.

"According to the Environmental Protection Agency," CNN reports, "the average fluorescent light bulb contains about 4 milligrams of mercury, over 100 times less than found in an old mercury thermometer."

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To save power, Bangladesh bans suits and ties

"In addition to eliminating pointless and uncomfortable decorative elements from men’s clothing, the move will help minimize the need for air conditioning."

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