Brussels: Shops across Europe began phasing out traditional energy-guzzling light bulbs on Tuesday, despite health and cost concerns, with the old-style frosted and 100-watt bulbs the first to go.
While vendors 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.
Tuesday’s move is 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.
The less powerful clear bulbs will be progressively banned until all traditional lights disappear from shops in 2012.
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. Others are concerned about possible health consequences.
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 and has published guidelines for dealing with mercury spills from broken bulbs: avoid skin contact and do not use a vacuum cleaner to clear up.
Such assurances did nothing to lift the opposition of the likes of Geoffrey Bloom, European member of parliament for the EU-sceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP).
“Time and time again we watch with despair as the EU churns out legislation with unintended consequences—and here we go again,” he bemoaned.
“We are being bullied into this in the name of climate change but what about the mercury contained in the new energy saving bulbs. I have no doubt that the issue of their disposal has not been given proper consideration,” he added.
The phase out of the old light bulbs is all part of the EU’s bigger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020.
The new bulbs, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFL) can save up to 80% 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 a year, depending on the size of the household, the EU executive claims.
The European Commission has not ruled out the possibility of the old 100-watt bulbs becoming something of a collector’s item and changing hands at inflated prices.