Everything you've ever wanted to know about light bulbs...

Posted by jamie - 7 August 2007 at 10:40am - Comments

A compact fluorescent lamp

A bulb a day keeps climate change at bay (or something along those lines...)

We've had a lot of support for our current light bulbs campaign (and some detractors too, it has to be said) but there have been many queries about whether compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) really are what they're cracked up to be - what about the mercury, can they be recycled, that sort of thing. Many of them have already been covered elsewhere on the site, but it's worth following them up in a slightly more prominent position.

If you have any more queries, just post a comment below or contact us at info@uk.greenpeace.org.

Are CFLs more polluting than incandescent bulbs because they contain mercury?
They do contain a small amount of mercury, but that doesn't make them worse for the environment. For a start CFLs can be recycled, as we'll see, but on top of that most people don't realise that incandescent bulbs are also responsible for the release of mercury. When fossil fuels (especially coal) are burnt to provide electricity, mercury is released - it's one of the biggest sources in the environment. Because they use much more electricity over the lifetime of the bulb, incandescents lead to the release of more mercury than is contained in a CFL.

Hang on, CFLs can be recycled?
Absolutely, so the mercury can be safely recovered and used again. The Waste Electric and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive, recently introduced by the EU, compels retailers and manufacturers to safely recycle and dispose of old electrical products, and this includes CFLs. However, as far as I know, only Ikea currently offer a take-back policy (and anecdotal evidence is they'll take any bulbs, not just their own brand). We wait with baited breath for the rest to follow suit. In the meantime, if you have some expired CFLs lying around, you could try taking them to your nearest retailer, quote an obscure piece of EU legislation to the manager and see what happens! There is also the old fashioned method of going to the recycling bank - find the site closest to you on Recycle More (bulbs are under 'General WEEE').

But what about recycling incandescent bulbs?
Sadly, they're not covered by WEEE. It's landfill for them. It's in no way ideal, but there are currently no means to recycle them.

In that case, I'm going to wait until they blow before replacing them with CFLs.
Ah, now here's where it gets a bit tricky. Incandescent bulbs are going to end up in landfill anyway, so the question is: do you put them in the bin now or later? If you continue to use them until they break, they'll still be using 80 per cent more electricity compared to CFLs. If you throw them away now, the energy and materials used in their production will be wasted but that will eventually be outweighed by the amount of energy saved from using CFLs. On balance, the best thing you can do is to change your light bulbs now - the energy saved is more significant than keeping those incandescents out of landfill for a few more months.

I can't use fluorescent lighting for medical reasons. If incandescent bulbs are banned, I'll be living in the dark.
We don't expect incandescent bulbs to be banned outright and people who suffer from ultraviolet or general light sensitivity could have access to them through a prescription from their doctor. But there's no reason why high street shops need to keep selling them.

In the battle against incandescent light bulbs has any consideration been given to where the 80% 'wasted' energy goes? In my house it contributes to space heating. In winter, when I make most use of lights, a switch to flourescents will create additional demand on my central heating to make up for the heat output which is no longer supplied from my lights.

Using light bulbs to heat a room is an absurdly inefficient way of doing it - how many do you think you would need to heat your house to the same level as your central heating?

The same amount of heat your light bulbs give off will be generated much more efficiently by your central heating, especially if it's gas. And given that many lights are on the ceiling, they're not exactly in the right place.

web editor
gpuk

Hello,

I am very worried that Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Government and others are lobbying heavily for replacement of

all light bulbs with new, energy efficient ones.

Have you considered the personal health impact these might have on people now and in a couple of years? Why are you not

being upfront and honest about their mercury content? Why do you not tell people that if they break one of them in their

house, they will need to sanitize the whole area from neurotoxic mercury vapours, that small children are particularly

susceptible to?

They have also been shown to cause depression and allergic reaction in some people due to the light they emit, which is very

different than that from a regular light bulb. It is cold and lifeless.

What about recycling - the energy saving light bulb CAN not be recycled at this point. If people throw them away in the trash,

which most of them will do, we will end up with tonnes of non-organic mercury in our waters and landfills, which is far more

dangerous that the organic mercury produced by power plants.

How is all of that helping the enviroment and the planet?

There are other ways we can save the planet without endagering ourselves.
If, despite all the dangers, you have decided to go ahead with promoting energy-saving light bulbs, please do not behave like

the big corporations that you so passionately fight against. Be honest, upfront and tell people what the real deal is.

Thanks

Electronic CFLs contain about 3mg of mercury (roughly 1% of the content in an old thermometer), which is a lot less than the mercury produced in powering an incandescent bulb.

CFLs are recyclable and every retailer selling them is, as of last month, obliged by law to take them back at the end of their life for recycling. Incandescents are not recycled.

The occasional negative health impacts of fluorescent lights are generally limited to magnetic versions, the old fashioned type which work at 60 cycles a second – just on the edge of human perception. Modern electronic versions operate at 24,000 cycles a second, and so have no discernible flicker or hum.

CFLs are available in a wide range of colours, including the same spectrum as ordinary incandescent bulbs.

Most of this information has already been published on our website. What we haven’t published is that “the most toxic forms of mercury are its organic compounds” - from Wikipedia . For those of you without a chemistry degree, ‘organic’ in this context does not mean ‘produced without hazardous chemicals by a nice man with a woolly jumper and a beard’ but ‘containing carbon’. I would explain why chemical compounds containing carbon are referred to as ‘organic’, but I don’t have a chemistry degree either.

According to the U.S Department of Energy, 22% of electricity consumed in the US goes towards lighting - http://news.com.com/Expert+LEDs...
(Any info on a UK percentage?)

The article is worth a read.

Assuming the use of CFL's, CFR's and high powered LED's this 22% (if correct) could be reduced to under 5%. How many nuclear power stations will be required given a fall in electricity usage of this magnitude?

I am halfway through replacing ALL my lighting with CFL's, CFR's and high powered LEDs based on an ABC usage analysis. Total cost circa £1,300, including some new fittings) of which the Government are taking circa £230 in VAT!!!! Are they really serious about reducing the UK's carbon footprint?

A guess - the removal of VAT from energy efficient goods would cost a fraction of the clean-up costs for the Nuclear Power Industry. (interested in any info on this. I read a figure of £2 million per day)

Bill Watkiss

Sorry for the delay in responding, I've been digging out some figures. According to the Energy Saving Trust (pdf), at least 16 per cent of our domestic energy usage in 2002 went on lighting (probably more), but that's just in our homes. Business and industry could bump that up significantly - the International Energy Agency says that worldwide, electrical lighting uses 19 per cent of all electricity produced. Slashing that usage will reduce the amount of power we need to generate, eliminating the need for new nuclear or coal-fired power stations, and tax breaks on energy efficient products definitely gets the thumbs up.

Sounds like you're going the whole hog on replacing your light fittings, and investing in LEDs as well - talk about being an early adopter!

web editor
gpuk

But there is an alternative!

From: Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc. Ph.D.
Environmental & Resource Studies,
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada,

Yes, CFL are making people sick. Health Canada recently admitted this. See email below from HC.

There are two types of LEDs. One type uses a transformer or ballast and this type generates dirty electricity and should NOT be used by anyone who is electrically sensitive. The other is called a CLED and has neither transformer nor ballast; produces no dirty electricity, radio frequency radiation or UV; contains no toxic chemicals and can be recycled; lasts about 50,000 hours; and uses a fraction of the energy used by CFL. It is still expensive but as demand goes up the cost will come down. Real UV Corp has CLEDs to replace incandescent lights, halogen lights and tube fluorescent lights.

Just an example of energy savings: a 60 watt incandescent uses 60 watts or energy; a similar CFL uses 15 watts; and a similar CLED uses 3 watts!!!!!

These bulbs are being manufactured in Taiwan and the person who is responsible for research and development is Bill Myers. He can be reached at: billm@realuvcorp.com.

We need to get this information out to the world. CFL should be banned rather than promoted!

See news report (video clip).

Another news report on compact fluorescent lights and ill health.

Use link below and select New Hours then "special report" then Changing Light Bulbs

http://www.canada.com/globaltv/ontario/video/index.html

NOTE: it is preceded by an ad!

Feel free to share this email as the word needs to go out to as many people as possible.

-magda
________________________________________________

Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc. Ph.D.
Environmental & Resource Studies,
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, K9J 7B8
phone: 705 748-1011 x 7882 fax: 705 748-1569
mhavas@trentu.ca
________________________________________________

Health Canada email:

On 08-04-11, at 15:10, Philippe Laroche philippe_laroche@hc-sc.gc.ca wrote:

Here are Health Canada's answers given to Allison Vuchnich avuchnich@globaltv.com of Global TV:

********************************
What enquiries has Health Canada had received regarding the bulbs?

Since 2002, the Department has received 31 consumer complaints surrounding CFLs. The majority of these complaints are with regards to the bulbs' end-of-life failure, which can include flickering, a bright orange or red glow, popping sounds, an odour or browning of the ballast enclosure.

The following Web sites include additional information on this process:

http://www.esainspection.net/pdf/Safety_Alerts/07-03-AL.pdf
http://www.esainspection.net/pdf/Safety_Alerts/06-03-AL.pdf

As well, Health Canada's Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau has received questions about increased UV and colour rendering from CFLs use in the Canadian household environment. Contrary to ordinary fluorescent tubes used in luminaires, the CFLs are not provided with a prismatic diffuser that filters ultraviolet radiation out. Therefore, there may be skin sensitivity issues, especially in people with certain skin diseases.

According to the Canadian Electrical Code, CFLs are required to be certified by testing and certification organizations such as Underwriters' Laboratories Canada (ULC) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to ensure they meet their requirements for safety. If consumers have a safety-related concern with a CFL, that is marked by a certification body such as ULC or CSA, they can report the details directly to these bodies by contacting them at the following:

Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada: Tel: 1-866-937-3852
Email: customerservice@ulc.ca
Canadian Standards Association: Tel: 1-800-463-6727

The Canadian Advisory Council on Electrical Safety also notes that Regional Electrical Safety Associations are able to follow up on any incidents where there is no information on the certifying body.
******************

Philippe Laroche
Media Relations Officer/Conseiller, Relations avec les médias
Health Canada/Santé Canada
Tel.: (613) 946-4250
Fax.: (613) 952-7747
philippe_laroche@hc-sc.gc.ca
www.healthcanada.gc.ca/www.santecanada.gc.ca
Gouvernment of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada

In the title of the previous message I meant to say that "Fluorescent Light Bulbs are Making People Sick" and not "Incandescent Light Bulbs." Sorry for the mistake.

peace

prd34

CFLs aren't perfect and there are a small number of people who report various sensitivity problems, but they're the best technology available at the moment and to get emissions down there isn't time to waste. Think of them as a stepping stone on the way to even more efficient LEDs - if they were commercially viable now, we'd be promoting them instead.

It's a pain to think that, at some point in the future, there may have to be a similar campaign to shift everyone over to LEDs (and I've no doubt there will be grumbles about not liking the quality/colour/tone of light etc etc) but the worst thing we could do is take no action at all.

web editor
gpuk

It's a bit patronising of Tracy to stereotype "organic" as being produced by a nice man wih a woolly jumper and a beard. Just the kind of unthinking cliche the Soil Association could do without. And the spectral output of light bulbs isn't just a matter of preference, as the Boston banker JD Ott discovered in private experiments between 1930 and 1970. He found that different spectra affected the growth of plants and animals, including us. As far as I know no-one has repeated or extended his experiments, but to dismiss dislike of the type of light produced by different bulbs as mere "grouses" isn't taking the matter as seriously as it deserves.

I can't help but feel we are all jumping on a bandwagon over energy efficient light bulbs purely because they are the most 'visible' use of energy.

Perhaps we should insist that all homes are fitted with white flooring and white walls so as to maximise reflectance and thus reduce the need for 'bright' lighting.

The real truth about energy efficient lamps is very different and taking into account the embodied energy of a CFL there isn't a huge difference in carbon footprint.

There is a very interesting article here...
http://www.pld-a.org/fileadmin/download/Gad_s_report_on_GLS___CFL.pdf

seagull.

In the battle against incandescent light bulbs has any consideration been given to where the 80% 'wasted' energy goes? In my house it contributes to space heating. In winter, when I make most use of lights, a switch to flourescents will create additional demand on my central heating to make up for the heat output which is no longer supplied from my lights.

Using light bulbs to heat a room is an absurdly inefficient way of doing it - how many do you think you would need to heat your house to the same level as your central heating? The same amount of heat your light bulbs give off will be generated much more efficiently by your central heating, especially if it's gas. And given that many lights are on the ceiling, they're not exactly in the right place. web editor gpuk

Hello, I am very worried that Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Government and others are lobbying heavily for replacement of all light bulbs with new, energy efficient ones. Have you considered the personal health impact these might have on people now and in a couple of years? Why are you not being upfront and honest about their mercury content? Why do you not tell people that if they break one of them in their house, they will need to sanitize the whole area from neurotoxic mercury vapours, that small children are particularly susceptible to? They have also been shown to cause depression and allergic reaction in some people due to the light they emit, which is very different than that from a regular light bulb. It is cold and lifeless. What about recycling - the energy saving light bulb CAN not be recycled at this point. If people throw them away in the trash, which most of them will do, we will end up with tonnes of non-organic mercury in our waters and landfills, which is far more dangerous that the organic mercury produced by power plants. How is all of that helping the enviroment and the planet? There are other ways we can save the planet without endagering ourselves. If, despite all the dangers, you have decided to go ahead with promoting energy-saving light bulbs, please do not behave like the big corporations that you so passionately fight against. Be honest, upfront and tell people what the real deal is. Thanks

Electronic CFLs contain about 3mg of mercury (roughly 1% of the content in an old thermometer), which is a lot less than the mercury produced in powering an incandescent bulb. CFLs are recyclable and every retailer selling them is, as of last month, obliged by law to take them back at the end of their life for recycling. Incandescents are not recycled. The occasional negative health impacts of fluorescent lights are generally limited to magnetic versions, the old fashioned type which work at 60 cycles a second – just on the edge of human perception. Modern electronic versions operate at 24,000 cycles a second, and so have no discernible flicker or hum. CFLs are available in a wide range of colours, including the same spectrum as ordinary incandescent bulbs. Most of this information has already been published on our website. What we haven’t published is that “the most toxic forms of mercury are its organic compounds” - from Wikipedia . For those of you without a chemistry degree, ‘organic’ in this context does not mean ‘produced without hazardous chemicals by a nice man with a woolly jumper and a beard’ but ‘containing carbon’. I would explain why chemical compounds containing carbon are referred to as ‘organic’, but I don’t have a chemistry degree either.

According to the U.S Department of Energy, 22% of electricity consumed in the US goes towards lighting - http://news.com.com/Expert+LEDs... (Any info on a UK percentage?) The article is worth a read. Assuming the use of CFL's, CFR's and high powered LED's this 22% (if correct) could be reduced to under 5%. How many nuclear power stations will be required given a fall in electricity usage of this magnitude? I am halfway through replacing ALL my lighting with CFL's, CFR's and high powered LEDs based on an ABC usage analysis. Total cost circa £1,300, including some new fittings) of which the Government are taking circa £230 in VAT!!!! Are they really serious about reducing the UK's carbon footprint? A guess - the removal of VAT from energy efficient goods would cost a fraction of the clean-up costs for the Nuclear Power Industry. (interested in any info on this. I read a figure of £2 million per day) Bill Watkiss

Sorry for the delay in responding, I've been digging out some figures. According to the Energy Saving Trust (pdf), at least 16 per cent of our domestic energy usage in 2002 went on lighting (probably more), but that's just in our homes. Business and industry could bump that up significantly - the International Energy Agency says that worldwide, electrical lighting uses 19 per cent of all electricity produced. Slashing that usage will reduce the amount of power we need to generate, eliminating the need for new nuclear or coal-fired power stations, and tax breaks on energy efficient products definitely gets the thumbs up. Sounds like you're going the whole hog on replacing your light fittings, and investing in LEDs as well - talk about being an early adopter! web editor gpuk

But there is an alternative! From: Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc. Ph.D. Environmental & Resource Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, Yes, CFL are making people sick. Health Canada recently admitted this. See email below from HC. There are two types of LEDs. One type uses a transformer or ballast and this type generates dirty electricity and should NOT be used by anyone who is electrically sensitive. The other is called a CLED and has neither transformer nor ballast; produces no dirty electricity, radio frequency radiation or UV; contains no toxic chemicals and can be recycled; lasts about 50,000 hours; and uses a fraction of the energy used by CFL. It is still expensive but as demand goes up the cost will come down. Real UV Corp has CLEDs to replace incandescent lights, halogen lights and tube fluorescent lights. Just an example of energy savings: a 60 watt incandescent uses 60 watts or energy; a similar CFL uses 15 watts; and a similar CLED uses 3 watts!!!!! These bulbs are being manufactured in Taiwan and the person who is responsible for research and development is Bill Myers. He can be reached at: billm@realuvcorp.com. We need to get this information out to the world. CFL should be banned rather than promoted! See news report (video clip). Another news report on compact fluorescent lights and ill health. Use link below and select New Hours then "special report" then Changing Light Bulbs http://www.canada.com/globaltv/ontario/video/index.html NOTE: it is preceded by an ad! Feel free to share this email as the word needs to go out to as many people as possible. -magda ________________________________________________ Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc. Ph.D. Environmental & Resource Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, K9J 7B8 phone: 705 748-1011 x 7882 fax: 705 748-1569 mhavas@trentu.ca ________________________________________________ Health Canada email: On 08-04-11, at 15:10, Philippe Laroche philippe_laroche@hc-sc.gc.ca wrote: Here are Health Canada's answers given to Allison Vuchnich avuchnich@globaltv.com of Global TV: ******************************** What enquiries has Health Canada had received regarding the bulbs? Since 2002, the Department has received 31 consumer complaints surrounding CFLs. The majority of these complaints are with regards to the bulbs' end-of-life failure, which can include flickering, a bright orange or red glow, popping sounds, an odour or browning of the ballast enclosure. The following Web sites include additional information on this process: http://www.esainspection.net/pdf/Safety_Alerts/07-03-AL.pdf http://www.esainspection.net/pdf/Safety_Alerts/06-03-AL.pdf As well, Health Canada's Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau has received questions about increased UV and colour rendering from CFLs use in the Canadian household environment. Contrary to ordinary fluorescent tubes used in luminaires, the CFLs are not provided with a prismatic diffuser that filters ultraviolet radiation out. Therefore, there may be skin sensitivity issues, especially in people with certain skin diseases. According to the Canadian Electrical Code, CFLs are required to be certified by testing and certification organizations such as Underwriters' Laboratories Canada (ULC) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to ensure they meet their requirements for safety. If consumers have a safety-related concern with a CFL, that is marked by a certification body such as ULC or CSA, they can report the details directly to these bodies by contacting them at the following: Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada: Tel: 1-866-937-3852 Email: customerservice@ulc.ca Canadian Standards Association: Tel: 1-800-463-6727 The Canadian Advisory Council on Electrical Safety also notes that Regional Electrical Safety Associations are able to follow up on any incidents where there is no information on the certifying body. ****************** Philippe Laroche Media Relations Officer/Conseiller, Relations avec les médias Health Canada/Santé Canada Tel.: (613) 946-4250 Fax.: (613) 952-7747 philippe_laroche@hc-sc.gc.ca www.healthcanada.gc.ca/www.santecanada.gc.ca Gouvernment of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada

In the title of the previous message I meant to say that "Fluorescent Light Bulbs are Making People Sick" and not "Incandescent Light Bulbs." Sorry for the mistake. peace prd34

CFLs aren't perfect and there are a small number of people who report various sensitivity problems, but they're the best technology available at the moment and to get emissions down there isn't time to waste. Think of them as a stepping stone on the way to even more efficient LEDs - if they were commercially viable now, we'd be promoting them instead. It's a pain to think that, at some point in the future, there may have to be a similar campaign to shift everyone over to LEDs (and I've no doubt there will be grumbles about not liking the quality/colour/tone of light etc etc) but the worst thing we could do is take no action at all. web editor gpuk

It's a bit patronising of Tracy to stereotype "organic" as being produced by a nice man wih a woolly jumper and a beard. Just the kind of unthinking cliche the Soil Association could do without. And the spectral output of light bulbs isn't just a matter of preference, as the Boston banker JD Ott discovered in private experiments between 1930 and 1970. He found that different spectra affected the growth of plants and animals, including us. As far as I know no-one has repeated or extended his experiments, but to dismiss dislike of the type of light produced by different bulbs as mere "grouses" isn't taking the matter as seriously as it deserves.

I can't help but feel we are all jumping on a bandwagon over energy efficient light bulbs purely because they are the most 'visible' use of energy. Perhaps we should insist that all homes are fitted with white flooring and white walls so as to maximise reflectance and thus reduce the need for 'bright' lighting. The real truth about energy efficient lamps is very different and taking into account the embodied energy of a CFL there isn't a huge difference in carbon footprint. There is a very interesting article here... http://www.pld-a.org/fileadmin/download/Gad_s_report_on_GLS___CFL.pdf seagull.

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