NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 3, 2009

As the deadline for the implementation of the first phase of the European Union's (UN) ban on incandescent light bulbs approaches, German shoppers, retailers and even museums are hoarding the precious wares -- and helping the manufacturers make a bundle, says Alexander Jung, of Spiegel Online.

The EU ban calls for the gradual replacement of traditional light bulbs with supposedly more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). The first to go will be 100-watt bulbs. Bulbs of other wattages will then gradually fall under the ban by 2012.

But many have mocked the light bulb legislation as just another example of an EU bureaucracy gone wild, says Jung.  In fact, in creating this legislation, the EU failed to address consumer preferences and the reservations of a number of other groups:

  • For example, many have complained that the light emitted by a CFL bulb is colder and weaker and that its high-frequency flickering can cause headaches.
  • Then there are complaints about the mercury the CFL bulbs contain, how there is no system for disposing of them in a convenient and environmentally friendly way, and how they allegedly result in exposure to radiation levels higher than allowed under international guidelines.
  • For some, the issue is also one of broken promises: manufacturers of CFL bulbs justify their higher prices by claiming that they last much longer than traditional bulbs, but a recent test found that 16 of the 32 bulb types tested gave up after 6,000 hours of use.
  • And then, of course, there's the issue of the light the bulbs emit. Many complain that the lights are just not bright enough and that they falsify colors.

But rather than banning incandescent bulbs, maybe the EU should consider applying a surcharge, which could make people think before buying, says Jung.

Source: Alexander Jung, "Getting Around the EU Ban: Germans Hoarding Traditional Light Bulbs," Spiegel Online, July 27, 2009.

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