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A ban by any other name

Issue 40 Dec / Jan 2007/8

Kevan Shaw PLDA, IALD, MSLL rages against the CFL machine.

Conveniently announced at the height of the Labour party conference, the ability of the British public to choose the type of light they want or need to use has been taken away. The Government are colluding with the lighting manufacturers and retailers to force the Compact Fluorescent Lamp with integrated ballast (CFLi) onto the British public in place of the familiar incandescent light bulb with the consequent need to replace dimmers, time switches, daylight sensors etc. that do not work with the majority of CFLi’s. In addition these lamps are generally not suitable for enclosed or recessed fittings designed for the traditional GLS lamp. This agreement will force a process of replacing perfectly good light fittings in order to enjoy the safe use of the CFLi. This situation seems to offer much to the lighting industry and little to the consumer.

The industry has already colluded with the agency responsible for environmental labelling to deliberately mis-state the efficiency and operational life of CFLi’s, for example an 11watt CFLi, deemed to be equivalent to a 60W conventional light bulb, produces 620 lumens, the 60W GLS lamp produces 700 lumens.

The environmental lobby are quick to defend the ecological impact of mercury used in CFLi’s stating that the energy saved reduces the mercury emitted from coal fired power stations by a factor of two. This argument conveniently requires all the energy for the GLS lamp to be supplied from the reducing proportion of coal fired power stations in the UK supply grid and also ignores the fact that, due to inefficiencies in the gear integrated with the direct replacement CFLi, these typically require the generation of current equal to twice the rated wattage! This is evidenced if you look for the current rating that should be printed on the lamp, typically 105mA for the 11 watt example discussed above, if this is multiplied by the voltage, 240V in the UK, the VA rating is 25.2VA which equals 25.2W of generating capacity and therefore energy used in the production of electricity to run the CFLi.

As I touched on above, CFLi’s contain mercury. They also contain phosphors, plastics and sundry other noxious chemicals in the gear and lamp base. They are classified as hazardous waste unlike the conventional GLS lamp that contains largely inert materials. This has two separate but concerning effects. Right now we are bringing a ban into place that will create a massive upsurge in the production of this hazardous waste. At the moment few places accept domestic CFLi’s for “recycling”. The lamp recycling companies that colleagues and I have spoken to are not generally prepared to accept them as they are expensive and difficult to deal with. Typically they cost far more to process than can be gained from the sale of recycled material. The only material that can be reclaimed for re-use is the Mercury. The electronics are shredded and heated to remove the solder, the remains being disposed of in land fill, the glass is so heavily contaminated by phosphors that it has no potential for further use other than as a filler for road surfacing and the plastic is also generally not suitable for further use.

Although CFLi’s are supposed to have very long operating lives experience suggests that they do not achieve these in practice as many existing light fittings cause the lamps to over heat. We are facing a potential problem in waste disposal and management of landfill as millions of these lamps are thrown away and left to leach poisons into the environment. Even when the possibility of recycling becomes more widespread the take up, particularly in the UK is low.

As to the manufacture of these lamps you will be hard pressed to find lamps that are not made in China. I believe this is because of the less rigorous attitude to worker protection, pollution and handling of dangerous substances as much as the cheaper labour rates.

In the UK we are being pushed into a situation where our choices are being restricted not by clearly debated legislation but by backroom dealing between the government and industry based on deliberately skewed information developed by marketing departments and publicity hungry pressure groups. Instead of protecting valuable natural resources this deal will fuel a market for unnecessary products to replace perfectly good functioning ones and the resultant disposal of working products because the consumables, in this case light bulbs, are being withdrawn from sale. It is abundantly obvious that the only gainers from this ban are the lamp manufacturers and electrical retailers, basically the people who have colluded with the Government on this agreement. At present there are many subsidies being applied to the sale of CFLi’s, this weekend Homebase were selling 11W Philips lamps at 2 for 99p. Clearly this is not a price sustainable in the market, I suspect that the non-subsidised price that seems to vary between £3 and £5 is closer to the real price that will be charged when the alternative GLS lamps are no longer available.

So far I have spoken only of the environmental pitfalls of this arrangement. I would like to conclude by considering the quality of light produced by the incandescent lamp and that produced by the CFL. Natural light has a continuous spectrum that is all colours of light are more or less equally rendered. This is the same for daylight and for the often forgotten other natural light, that given by flame sources. The light from the incandescent lamp has this same natural quality making it comfortable for they eye and easy to determine different colours. All fluorescent and other “energy efficient” light sources produce light in distinctive peaks of colour that, all together give a semblance of white light, however to the eye colours are rendered differently, greens enhanced and reds subdued. In addition CFLs flicker. This is caused by the switching on and off by the nature of the AC electricity supply. Most modern lamps reduce this effect by increasing the frequency above that which is consciously discernable however some people still report headaches in predominantly fluorescent lit environments. Recent research has also shown that autistic children are specifically sensitive to this effect causing serious disturbance to their behaviour.

Some manufacturers, notably Osram and GE, are beginning to sell mains voltage tungsten halogen lamps in either A shape or BTT shape envelopes. These seem to meet the acceptable criteria for energy use though achieving only 14lm/W or 15lm/W at least with a power factor of 1. These lamps are also being sold at a considerable premium over GLS at typically £1.50 for the equivalent of a 60W or 100W GLS. These will be compatible with most dimmers and time switches, though with substantially higher inrush currents they will reduce the useful life of these controls.

From an aesthetic standpoint it is interesting to note a historical precedent. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, working in the first decade of the twentieth century, had the choice of gas or electric light in some of his projects. Where electricity was available he eagerly adopted the incandescent lamp creating exciting new forms of container for it. However when using gas he did not use the gas mantle, the height of efficient production of light from the gas flame. He remained faithful to the bare flame with its warm continuous spectrum colour, totally rejecting the efficient gas mantle with colour distorting discontinuous spectrum.

Personally I believe there is a place for all types of light source and my career as a lighting designer depends on choosing appropriate light sources and minimising the use of energy for lighting. My belief is that the only efficacious light source is natural light and the use of this should be optimised. Simultaneously electric light use should be minimised. This is best achieved by switching it off when not required rather than trying to limit the use of any particular means of creating light particularly when this action results in the creating of both unnecessary waste of perfectly functional controls and light fittings and dangerous waste without a process already in place for its safe collection and disposal.

Much of this information and other articles are available from the website


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