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Great Paper End of Term Report - part 6 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

by Mike McNamee Published 01/02/2010

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The Light Bulb Situation - a rant not involving Vista!

Low-energy light bulbs are something of a scourge to photographers, particularly if they make poor buying choices. In September 2009 the EEC banned the future sale of incandescent light bulbs in a very creditable attempt to reduce the carbon footprint of the European nations. The Directive is in force and when existing stocks have been exhausted, retailers in the EU will no longer be able to supply bulbs with a frosted, opal, pearl or other opaque finish unless they are category A energy savers. With current technology, this effectively means that the only bulbs which will be available will use compact fluorescent technology.

• All clear bulbs must be category E or better from 1st September 2009
• 100W bulbs and above must be category C or better from 1st Setember 2009
• 75W bulbs and above must be category C or better from 1st September 2010
• 60W bulbs and above must be category C or better from 1st September 2011
• All clear bulbs must be category C or better from 1st September 2012


This is not without implication to us as photographers because we now find ourselves selling images to go into homes in which the lighting quality is quite unpredictable (and sometimes appalling). Frosted incandescent bulbs are replaced by Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs). The move has not been without its critics. In order to make the bulb strike, it is necessary to add a small amount of mercury to each CFL and this brings in a swath of stringent requirements on the matter of disposal. Despite the claims to the contrary CFLs are not lasting as well as has been boasted, so the news that you may have to drive many miles to dispose of your dead CFLs is neither welcome nor very environmentally friendly. In our area, which is a suburb of a major city, we are expected to drive about 8 miles to the nearest disposal facility. At many times of the weekday and most of the weekend you might face a 30-minute queue to drop off your solitary bulb. In March 2009 the actual recycling rate of CFLs ranged from zero (Bulgaria) to 50% (Denmark).

The instructions on how to deal with a broken CFL are frightening beyond imagination - only the Americans could make this stuff up! Take a look at this direct quote from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

"Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines: vit goes on to include the following gems"

• Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
• Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
• Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
• Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag. (Conversely, the Maine DEP study of 2008 compared clean-up methods, and warned that the EPA recommendation of plastic bags was the worst choice, as vapours well above safe levels continued to leach from the bags. The Maine DEP now recommends a sealed glass jar as the best repository for a broken bulb. MMcN)
• Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

The British are slightly more restrained but recommend that you do not use CFLs in locations where they may be vulnerable to breakage such as table lamps. For balance it should be said that fluorescent tubes have always contained mercury and they have been in use since the 1930s.

Having established that CFLs are more unreliable than they would like us to believe, only pump out a fraction of the light that they claim, take forever to warm up to full output and can have a very dodgy spectral output we still have the conundrum that if an incandescent bulb pumps out heat and you remove it, to maintain the same room temperature, your central-heating boiler will kick in more frequently. This argument is reversed if you have an air-conditioned environment.


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1st Published 01/02/2010
last update 06/11/2019 11:05:43

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