Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

London Light Bulb ‘Amnesty’

with 3 comments

A flyer in my weekend paper announces that Londoners are to be offered the chance to exchange two traditional light bulbs for two free energy efficient bulbs. From 11th-13th January, take your nasty old incandescent bulb along to any branch of B&Q and trade it in for a lovely new long-lasting, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL). While stocks last. This is a joint project between B&Q, British Gas and the Mayor of London. According to the Mayor’s web site, the initiative is a “stunt-led PR activity across the city, [involving] above the line marketing, promotional activity, point of sale information packs”. Its purpose is to “help raise awareness of the importance of using energy efficient lightbulbs”.

There are so many issues and unanswered questions raised by this it’s difficult to know where to start.

  • Presumably it’s OK to swap a dead bulb, we’re not told. But who keeps dead bulbs lying around just in case of a trade-in opportunity? It’s highly likely that the majority of people participating in this exercise will be presenting perfectly viable bulbs for exchange.
  • I never shop at B&Q. My nearest store is about 5 miles away, in an area I never go to. Taking part in the amnesty will require a round-trip of 10 miles.

All of which devalues the ‘freeness’ of the new bulbs. As for the whole idea of phasing out old bulbs, which underlies this initiative, don’t get me started. Oh, I have.

  • CFLs are not 100% satisfactory alternatives for incandescent bulbs. They’re subjectively dimmer and the light has a different quality, an effect that becomes more noticeable amongst older people as their eyesight deteriorates. CFLs are not suitable for activities such as reading, sewing or electronics. A 11 watt CFL is not equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent, despite what it says on the box. In practice, users will end up switching to 20 watt bulbs and even installing additional lights to compensate.
  • CFLs tend to be longer and heavier than old-style bulbs, so they often don’t fit existing light fittings. Ceiling roses may need to be ‘beefed up’, small lampshades may have to be replaced with larger ones.
  • As has been publicised recently, information on disposal is vague, inconsistent and unavailable. While the current health scare about the mercury content has been over-played, people still need to know that CFLs are different and need to be handled accordingly.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the use of CFLs where appropriate. I even have several installed in my house. I do not approve of the current blanket policy of phasing out and banning. I am planning to stockpile incandescent bulbs so that I can continue to find my way round the house in my old age.

Oh yes. Ken, that link on the flyer still doesn’t work, get it fixed.

8th January Update: At last Ken’s found someone to fix that link at
There are some interesting snippets of information in there. Good to see that someone agrees with me that CFLs are different.

For technical reasons, the glass used to house energy saving light bulbs has to be opaque – not totally transparent, so shouldn’t be directly compared to clear traditional bulbs.


Written by Pete Smith

January 6, 2008 at 4:18 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Not to mention the mercury that will end up in millions of households of people who have no idea how to dispose of it. I know mercury isn’t such a huge danger but I wouldn’t like to see my children come into contact with a broken flourescent light.

    Yes, banning traditional lightbulbs seems like a good idea on the surface but there needs to be much more research done before governments turn this into policy.


    January 7, 2008 at 2:45 pm

  2. I get very grumpy about bright ideas that are presented as win/win when if you investigate properly they are nothing of the kind. The mercury ‘shock horror’ revelations have been vastly over-cooked, millions of households have been living with fluorescent tubes for decades without a word being said about their mecury content. It could be argued that’s down to ignorance, or different perceptions of risk; fluorescent tubes have been reclassified as hazardous waste only relatively recently. From the Environment Agency web site: “Certain wastes are classified as hazardous – a very broad term for a wide range of substances that present different levels of risk. Some present a serious and immediate threat to the population and the environment, for example those which are toxic, could cause cancer or infectious disease. Others, such as fluorescent tubes or cathode ray tubes in televisions, pose little immediate threat but may cause long term damage over a period of time.”

    Pete Smith

    January 7, 2008 at 3:04 pm

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