Low-energy lamps create problem waste: The fate of the light bulb is sealed in Europe

After 130 years, Europe bids farewell to the incandescent light bulb. Conventional bulbs are too inefficient, too expensive, and too harmful to the climate. But the switch to low-energy lamps is not without consequences for the environment -- not, at least, as long as there is no adequate disposal system for the mercury contained in the new lamps. All low-energy lamps, most of which are manufactured in Asia, contain the poisonous heavy metal mercury.

(01.06.2010) The days of the incandescent bulb, that symbol of inventive inspiration, appear to be numbered. The end of incandescent lighting is due to the EU's Ecodesign Directive, which is the basis of the regulations governing ecodesign requirements for energy-using products. In early December 2008, a decision was reached regarding the section on lighting in private households. A regulation committee comprised of delegates from all 27 EU Member States and the EU Commission passed a draft regulation governing the use of "non-directional household lamps". The EU Parliament ratified the regulation, which the EU Commission officially put into effect in March 2009. The regulation will not be implemented subject to national guidelines -- it applies directly to all countries in the Community market.
The regulation does not explicitly prohibit the use of incandescent bulbs. Rather, it raises the requirements for the energy efficiency of household lamps by specifying the ratio of their power consumption (measured in watts) to their luminous flux (in lumen). This requirement becomes increasingly strict year-after-year to a level so high that white-light incandescent bulbs will disappear from the market by 2012. The regulation is slated to take effect as of September 1, 2009. After that, 100 watt bulbs will have to be removed from store shelves in Germany. A year later, 75 watt bulbs will be on the chopping block. In September 2011, 60 watt bulbs will be affected, and in 2012 there will be no more 40 or 25 watt bulbs. Between 2013 and 2016 inefficient models of other types of lighting, such as certain halogen bulbs, will go by the wayside.
According to a comprehensive preliminary study completed prior to the legislation, the regulation will save nearly 40 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy. That corresponds to the energy consumption of 11 million European households. Such savings would reduce CO2 emissions by some 15 million tons. Commenting on the regulation, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs stated that, "This groundbreaking measure delivers a clear message about the EU's commitment to reach its energy efficiency and climate protection targets". After all, the EU has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% for the period between 1990 and 2010.
According to a comprehensive preliminary study completed prior to the legislation, the regulation will save nearly 40 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy. That corresponds to the energy consumption of 11 million European households. Such savings would reduce CO2 emissions by some 15 million tons. Commenting on the regulation, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs stated that, "This groundbreaking measure delivers a clear message about the EU's commitment to reach its energy efficiency and climate protection targets". After all, the EU has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% for the period between 1990 and 2010.
Indeed, the traditional light bulb is not very energy efficient. Only 5% of the electricity used to power the bulbs is converted to light; the other 95% is emitted as heat. The competition fares quite a bit better, especially fluorescent lamps. Even the tubular and ring-shaped variants (neon lamps) convert some 35% of energy to light. But compact fluorescent lamps are especially efficient; hence the name, low-energy lamps. Low-energy lamps produce as much light at 15 watts as conventional 75 watt bulbs. That corresponds to energy savings of 80%. LED lamps, which create light by electrically exciting semiconductors, promise to be just as energy-saving once they reach a stage of development to make them suitable for household use. Even halogen lamps can save between 25 and 50% of input energy.
The length of their useful life is also a point in favour of the switch to the new lamps. Traditional light bulbs produce light for some 1000 hours before burning out; halogen lamps, on the other hand, last some 4000 hours. Low-energy lamps can last anywhere from 6000 to 15,000 hours. LEDs could theoretically provide light for up to 100,000 hours if their electronics could hold up that long.
While good brand-name low-energy lamps -- as opposed to cheap discount products -- at some 7 to 14 euros are significantly more expensive to purchase than light bulbs (1 euro), there is some consolation for consumers making the switch. Switching just one light bulb, taking into account the higher purchase price, can result in a net savings of between 25 and 50 euros, according to an EU commission calculation. That adds up to some 5 to 10 billion euros EU-wide or, according to a Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH, Berlin) calculation, some 1.5 billion euros in Germany alone.
However, in the autumn of 2008, a study that appeared in the German Öko-Test magazine cast doubt on the much-praised quality of low-energy lamps. The critique focused on two issues: the tested lamps could not compete with standard bulbs in either brightness or quality of light. Ten of the 16 lamps tested burned out after 3100 hours instead of the 6000 to 8000 hours claimed by the manufacturer. Furthermore, the majority of the lamps tested saved only 50 to 70% of input energy.
"Despite the Öko-Test results low-energy lamps still are the environmentally sensible alternative," counters Dr. Jürgen Waldorf, manager of the Electric Lamps Division of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (ZVEI, Frankfurt). Furthermore, good low-energy lamp models have a light colour and quality approaching that of incandescent bulbs.
Therefore, leading lamp producers, especially Osram, Philips, Radium and Megaman, as well as industry associations welcome the coming EU regulation. However, economic aspects may play a role in their enthusiasm. In Germany alone, at least some 500 million low-cost light bulbs will have to be replaced over the next few years by energy-saving, but more expensive alternatives. EU-wide, some 2.7 billion bulbs will need to be replaced. Phasing out of the traditional lamps has also garnered the praise of environmental associations and institutions. However, the Öko-Institut in Freiburg cautions that we must ensure one way or another, that low-quality, cheap products are no longer sold. After all, along with models that have a long life and low mercury content, less desirable products are on the market.
One of the greatest drawbacks of the low-energy lamps is mercury, which is mixed with a noble gas (usually argon), causing fluorescent lamps to light up. Older models of the lamps contain between 4 and 8 mg of mercury. According to the RoHS Directive, which regulates the use of hazardous materials in electronic devices, the EU limit value for mercury is 5 mg. Newer lamps contain only 2 to 4 mg of mercury. The mercury is contained in the inner coating of the glass tube and is released as a white powder when the tube breaks.
The mercury in the low-energy lamps themselves is not what environmental organizations are concerned about. After all, even electricity production releases small amounts of this dangerous heavy metal into the environment. Deutsche Umwelthilfe estimates that an incandescent light bulb burning three hours a day for a year creates mercury emissions amounting to 0.97 mg. A low-energy bulb using 80% less electricity creates only 0.18 mg of mercury from power generation. Added to its average mercury content (adjusted by year) of 0.44 mg, the mercury balance for the low-energy lamp is still a good one-third better than that of a standard bulb.
The real problem is proper disposal. After all, fluorescent bulbs -- unlike incandescent bulbs -- fall under the German electronics law (Elektro- und Elektronikgesetz, or ElektroG) and have to be turned in either at special community collection points or at collection points in shops; the latter is a voluntary program. From a total of some 115 million such lamps needing disposal, only 36 million (31%) were turned in at proper collection points. In other words, some 80 million lamps ended up either in household waste or glass recycling complains Georgios Chryssos, head of sales at Lightcycle Retourlogistik und Service GmbH in Munich, Germany. The non-profit organization, founded by well-known lamp manufacturers, organizes recycling logistics for waste florescent lamps throughout Germany and coordinates reporting flow to the German waste electronics registry (Elektro-Altgeräte Register, or EAR). Despite the low turn-in rate, 387 kg of mercury was properly disposed of or recycled in 2007 according to Lightcycle. Looked at the other way round, however, that means that more than 860 kg were not disposed of in an environmentally safe way.
But the logistics necessary for proper disposal are in place. For instance, Lightcycle has set up some 500 voluntary collection points in addition to the more than 1100 community turn-in centres. On-site pick up is arranged for large-scale commercial users. Furthermore, lamp manufacturers themselves have founded two recycling consortia that, as system partners of Lightcycle, act as guarantors in accordance with ElektroG: Lampen Recycling und Service GmbH (LARS of Hamburg), and Osram Lampenverwertung (OLAV), operated by CCR Logistics Systems AG of Dornach . These partners have divided Germany into four logistics regions, each of which are served by a recycling operation responsible for properly treating and recycling the waste lamps. The four recycling plants are Stena Metall Group (with headquarters in Göteborg, Sweden; northern region), Larec Lampen Recycling GmbH (Brand-Erbisdorf, Saxony; eastern region), Dela Recycling und Umwelttechnik GmbH (Essen; western region), and Eds-r GmbH (Thierhaupten, Bavaria; southern region).
Still, the return rate for used low-energy lamps leaves much to be desired -- especially when it comes to private households. If we distinguish between commercial and private return rates, the real dilemma is clear. Not even 10% of the low-energy lamps from private households make it to Lightcycle, according to one of the company's logistics specialists, Axel Günther. This makes the statistics misleading because florescent lamps, which are often subject to routine replacement cycles, account to a great extent for the very high commercial return rates. For consumers, it is very easy simply to toss the waste lamps into the household garbage, but very difficult to dispose of them properly. A DUH study of 42 large German cities concluded that there is an average of only one collection point per 170,000 residents. And many electronics discounters rule out the return of defective or even broken lamps out of hand.
Thus, both Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Lightcycle are pushing for education. DUH offers informational brochures, flyers, school materials, stickers, and organizes community informational events. Lightcycle offers a similar toolkit free to community outreach offices. There is also a high profile public relations campaign in newspapers, radio, television, online, and on billboards with the motto, "Die kommt mir nicht in die Tonne" (roughly, "not in my dumpster"). Let's hope it helps.
 
The lamp market
According to a preliminary study to the EU regulation on "non-directional household lamps", some 2 billion lamps in this market sector were sold in 2006. Nearly two-thirds of that figure were conventional incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent lamps amounted to 20% of the figure, and halogen lamps made up 10%. Low-energy lamps had a market share of only 5%, however, with an increase of over 33% in recent years, these lamps showed the highest growth rate. Miscellaneous lighting made up the remainder of the market share. Existing European households currently have more than 5.1 billion lamps, 55% of which are incandescent bulbs. Halogen makes up 24% of the total. Fluorescent lamps and low-energy lamps combined make up some 21% of the total. This means that once the regulation enters into force 2.8 billion light bulbs will have to be replaced over the next decade.

Author: Heinz-Wilhelm Simon, Berlin and Martin Boeckh, Gaiberg (Germany)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Copyright: © Deutscher Fachverlag (DFV)
Quelle: Entsorga China 01_2010 (Juni 2010)
Seiten: 3
Preis inkl. MwSt.: € 0,00
Autor: Heinz-Wilhelm Simon
Martin Boeckh

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