Federal light-bulb ban set for 2014 - Macleans.ca

Federal light-bulb ban set for 2014

Seven years after announcement, tough regulations have been watered down


OTTAWA – A federal ban on inefficient light bulbs goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, almost seven years after it was announced with fanfare by a then-rookie Conservative government.

But the tough regulations are being watered down, and there are no federal rules yet on recycling a class of bulbs that meet the new standard but contain toxic mercury.

The Conservative government announced an aggressive plan in 2007 that would effectively remove most incandescent bulbs from retail shelves in favour of more expensive alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs.

The new rules were set to start in 2012, but then were postponed to Jan. 1, 2014, to “allay” consumer concerns about cost and flexibility.

In the meantime, the government proposed allowing a newer kind of incandescent bulb, filled with halogen gas, to remain on store shelves even though it doesn’t meet the tough efficiency standards that were proposed in 2007 when the environment was top of mind for most Canadians.

The relaxed proposed rule about halogen bulbs, which are cheaper than CFLs, is out for public commentary until Dec. 19, and won’t be part of the new regime Jan. 1.

A spokeswoman for Natural Resources says the government intends to implement the halogen exception in a “timely fashion,” depending on feedback, with no deadline set.

And Environment Canada still has not enacted new regulations that would limit the amount of mercury contained in each CFL, and that would compel manufacturers and distributors to recycle them.

The uncertainty and inaction is a far cry from the splashy announcement in 2007, when then-environment minister John Baird touted the Conservative government’s bold leadership.

Baird told a 2007 news conference staged at a Home Depot outlet in Nepean, Ont., that the light-bulb initiative would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by more than six million tonnes annually. He encouraged the recycling of the new CFLs at Home Depot and other retailers voluntarily offering such programs.

Earlier this year, Home Depot ended its CFL recycling program, saying provinces and “third-party agencies are better equipped to manage these kinds of programs.”

A spokesman for Environment Canada says regulations that require recycling programs and that set mercury-content limits remain a work in progress.

“Environment Canada is developing measures that set limits for mercury content in compact fluorescent lamps and require labels about their safe disposal, and is also considering options for the management of mercury-containing lamps when they become waste,” Mark Johnson said in an email.

“Some provinces already have initiatives to deal with mercury lamps as waste. We will ensure that our efforts are complementary to provincial and territorial initiatives.”

A 2012 study for Environment Canada found that Canada’s mercury-waste facilities are either patchwork or non-existent, and that there are no national standards.

Researchers also found that much mercury waste winds up in municipal landfills, where it can leach into groundwater.

The chemical is highly toxic. Minute amounts can seriously damage the nervous system. The mercury contained in just one medical thermometer can contaminate five Olympic-size swimming pools to toxic levels.

As of Jan. 1, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be effectively eliminated from store shelves, with 40- and 60-watt versions to follow Dec. 31. However, the industry can continue to ship non-efficient bulbs, such as traditional incandescents, as long as they were manufactured before Jan. 1.

Traditional incandescents lose about 90 per cent of their energy as heat, but are inexpensive and some Canadians have been hoarding them in advance of the ban. CFLs can cost from $1 to $10 more than incandescents for each bulb.

Halogen incandescent bulbs are generally less expensive than CFLs, more efficient than traditional incandescents and contain no mercury. They are also permitted under the energy-efficiency regime in the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner.

Environmentalists generally applaud Canada’s new energy-efficiency regulations for bulbs, but say there must also be strict rules on recycling any mercury from broken CFLs.

“It’s ridiculous that the two pieces of regulation are not going hand in hand,” said MP Megan Leslie, the NDP’s environment critic. “The mercury issue is real and serious.”

Leslie applauded the ban on energy-inefficient light bulbs, and welcomed efforts by some businesses to recycle CFLs, but said recycling should be mandatory, not voluntary.

“We cannot put these CFLs in landfills,” she said in an interview.

Environment Canada’s Johnson says limits proposed in early 2011 for the amount of mercury in CFLs had been expected to be in place by now.

But after receiving numerous public comments, the department “conducted extensive consultations with key stakeholders to address the issues raised in order to have cost-effective regulations that would protect human health and the environment while minimizing the administrative burden on industry.”

He added: “Some sectors may have already started to take action toward meeting the proposed mercury content limits in lamps, including compact fluorescent lamps and by informing Canadians of the presence of mercury in lamps and on proper procedures for the clean-up and disposal of CFLs.”

What you need to know:

Genesis: In April 2007, Conservative government proposes new energy-efficiency regulations, to come into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Regulations amended in October 2011 to delay implementation by two years, starting Jan. 1, 2014, to “allay” concerns of consumers about cost and flexibility.

Impact: Regulations would not ban incandescents outright, but would effectively require retailers to replace them with so-called compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, which contain small amounts of toxic mercury. Another more expensive alternative is mercury-free LED lights. Government also proposes allowing incandescent halogen lamps, which are not as efficient as CFLs but are cheaper and contain no mercury.

Quantity: Environment Canada estimates the regulations would require about 1,500 kilograms of new mercury in CFLs between 2014 and 2026. Other consumer goods now containing mercury include some batteries, switches, relays and thermometers.

Current consumer mercury: Environment Canada estimates the use and disposal of products containing mercury represent about 27 per cent of Canada’s current domestic emissions of this toxic metal.

Foreign sources: Some 96 per cent of human-made mercury pollution deposited in Canada every year arrives through airborne foreign emissions, with China as a major source because of its coal-fired plants.

Dangers: Minute amounts of mercury can have serious health consequences. The substance can cross the placenta into the fetus, can be transmitted through breast milk, and is often concentrated in fish, birds and marine mammals, especially in the Arctic. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and can cause tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, headaches and other problems.

Recycling/waste facilities: A 2012 report found 123 facilities that store or manage mercury waste in Canada. There is no facility in Canada to extract pure mercury from waste for recycling. Waste often sent to U.S.

Managing CFL mercury waste: Federal government has proposed but not enacted limits on the amount of mercury permitted in each CFL. Ottawa also considering compelling manufacturers and importers to manage the mercury waste from the CFLs they sell, through recycling or proper disposal, but has not yet proposed regulations.

Consumers: Consumers who have CFLs that are broken or burnt out should not dispose of them with regular garbage. Rather, they need to be taken to a waste facility or retail program for proper disposal of the mercury content. One website with advice on finding a local waste facility is Earth911.com.

Average service life: Traditional incandescent bulbs, 1,095 hours; CFLs, 8,000; incandescent halogen bulbs, 1,095.

Cost-benefit: Natural Resources says new regulations would deliver between $749 million and $2.4 billion in energy and greenhouse gas savings for Canadians, including 7.5 megatonnes of reduced annual greenhouse-gas emissions in 2025.

(Sources: Environment Canada, Health Canada, Summerhill Impact, Environmental Defence, Statistics Canada)


Federal light-bulb ban set for 2014

  1. This is insane. To trade incandescent bulbs for mercury shows a level of ignorance that is frightening. Who, with children in the house, wants bulbs breaking and exposing them to mercury? This was very poorly thought out.

    • Ignorance indeed – Sounds like this was written 10 years ago – No mention of LED that is under $10 retails and lasts 25+ years? Do your homework people – The 100w Incandescent is 125 years old – 95% heat and 5% light – Should we all still drive Model T Fords?? CFLs are OLD news – The world is moving to LED rapidly

      • Agreed. Have mostly incandescent now (a few CFLs) but will be jumping to LED rather than CFL if at all possible.

        • Yes, I agree with you both in principle, however, I have found the light to be very cold and harsh from LED. I will use them instead of CFL, though.

          • You can get different “colours” – have seen some that mimic incandescent better than the “warm” CFLs. CFLs are missing more spectrum. Though I agree incandescent still seems best. Though it may just be because it’s what we’ve always had.

  2. wiki – “Mad as a hatter” is a colloquial phrase used in conversation to refer to a crazy person. In 18th and 19th century England mercury was used in the production of felt, which was used in the manufacturing of hats common of the time. People who worked in these hat factories were exposed daily to trace amounts of the metal, which accumulated within their bodies over time, causing some workers to develop dementia caused by mercury poisoning(called mad hatter syndrome). Thus, the phrase became popular as a way to refer to someone who was perceived as insane.

    • We will put warnings on the lightbulbs so that people don’t attempt to screw them into their skulls.

  3. The ‘western world’ is in a sad state indeed when such a minor thing upsets us.

    • Well Em, politicians who walk around with solutions to throw at problems that don’t exist DO bug me :)


      • Inefficient light bulbs and dozy citizens ARE a problem.

        • What is the “minor thing” – mercury poisoning? This is better than inefficient bulbs?
          Though with LED prices continuing to drop, it will likely be a moot issue soon enough. Once LEDs are in range with CFLs, no one will want toxic bulbs with a comparatively poor light spectrum.

  4. The article notes:
    “A federal ban on inefficient light bulbs goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014”
    This can be reworded to more accurately describe,
    “the incandescent light bulb; which has proven it’s reliability for over 100 years, will soon meet its demise as the pressure to promote “green” alternatives, once again forces consumers to purchase a far more expensive, and toxic version that produces harsh light…”
    You get the idea.
    (I have already stocked up on incandescents…i suggest you do the same)

    • James, I would highly suggest you switch to LED. The bulbs out this year put incandescent to shame in every conceivable way.

      • I have LED’s for some areas of the house, but in the common rooms I prefer the incandescents. They just have a nicer light in my opinion. LED’s are bright, but they are somewhat harsh.

        • You can get them in different kelvin. Some are pretty close to incandescent from what I’ve seen in the stores.

  5. Talk about pointless.

    LEDs are already better than incandescent light bulbs, using a fraction of the power and generating virtually no excess heat while lasting far longer. You have to be crazy to buy anything else at this point.

    CFLs are already antiquated technology by comparison.

    • Sadly I’m allergic to all those other light bulbs other than the incandescent ones.

  6. Thank goodness for flashlights… Not buying those mercury laden bulbs ever! Never thought a protest against lightbulbs of a certain kind would be a great idea..but here we are!

  7. I’m relieved. The headline had me thinking I’d have to stock up on candles.

  8. I will be stocking up on incandescent bulbs. CFLs are way more expensive and do not last as long. In my home I continually had to replace CFLs, and so I switched to the cheaper incandescent bulbs which also happen to last longer. Furthermore, as others have said, the light from CFLs are brutal, CFLs are toxic, and don’t work very well as an exterior light in the winter.

    • If your CFLs aren’t lasting as long as incandescents, something is up. Either your wiring is faulty or you are using them where they shouldn’t be used (e.g. most aren’t dimmable).

      • Not something is wrong with the house, it is true they don’t last long and it is expensive. I had one and it died way before the incandescent bulbs that were put in before it.

        • ONE? Hardly a representative sample.

          As I said, improper use (such as using with a dimmer) will significantly shorten their life span. And like anything, you can get the odd defective sample. But my experience has been an average of seven to eight years per CFL, vs a year or two per incandescent. Which is pretty much as advertised.

          • Wasn’t only for me, for people I know too. They said theirs didn’t last long either. I can’t use CFLs for the house since it really damages my skin.

  9. My old CFLs go straight into the blue recycling bins, at high velocity.

  10. How well I remember Harper’s pulpit pounding, decaffeinated tea performance, launching forth this, one of his early myopic gems. Back then he and the Hillbilly’s were somewhat entertaining; now it’s just miserable, mean and closed mouth paranoia as they stumble in and out of one mess or another left behind on their barn floor…(personally, I like the, “Department of Religious Freedom”)

    One half a billion taxpayer dollars invested in ‘advocacy’ advertising for ‘his team’, and the, all hat and no horse cowboy, just can’t find footing anywhere.

  11. Oh fer chrissakes….do they not know it’s COLD in Canada for 9 months of the friggin year? I have a lovely desk lamp with a 60W incandescent bulb….it warms my hands on days like today and helps keep my house warm.

    • Well there is that – though a good halogen will keep you almost as warm :-)

      • Ha! Good point. Lasts longer too, and getting cheaper I notice.

    • Yup I really think this is one of the worst eco laws on tap especially for Canada and that is a major reason why.

    • Peterborough Dave is exactly right. The energy “wasted” in heat from an incandescent bukd is not actually wasted for most of the year in Canada. Here in Calgary, heat after dark is almost always welcome, and always needed in winter. The heat energy from an incandesent bulb just offsets the energy required for regular heat source of your home. So there is no wasted energy except for those few really warm summer nights.

  12. How can we stop this ban?
    Imagine, a whole generation poisoned with mercury at the behest of their own government.

    • I’ve stored mercury bulbs / old thermometers and batteries for years waiting for a place to dump them. The retailers don’t have a drop bin except for cordless tool batteries. I finally moved and hide them in the trash just to get rid of them.

  13. YES – little john baird is some lite bulb – eh !!

  14. .
    Unnoticed by media:
    Supposedly allowed”similar” halogens will be
    banned too, under the USA law that Gov is adopting, EISA (USA) tier 2
    2014-2017 45 lumen per W minimum final rule

    As the proposal itself says, this is part of a new drive to adopt USA
    law overall.
    Bad for independence, local industry jobs and choice

    Extensive analysis of the proposal: Freedomlightbulb org


  15. Let the incandescent bulb die a natural death. We don’t need these unnecessary laws as the market will take care of it over time.

  16. It’s no big deal to hide them in the garbage when dead, anymore then it is to hide toxic batteries but I hate the clink clink clink they make when they go on. Not to mention the cold white light. Maybe if we had recycle facilities we could at least pretend that we are recycling the mercury and whatever heavy metals are in our batteries like lithium. (we don’t actually, like many phony recycling programs) People would be amazed at how very little of the recycling they do actually gets recycled. Plus by the time you burnt the fuel to transport and sort it you lost what you set out to do which is presumably make a smaller environmental impact.

  17. First the government gets rid of mail. Now they want us to go blind reading with these Compact fluorescent bulbs which produce only 25 watts of light. What about limiting automobile use instead. I don’t use a car. I’d at least like to retain my sight. It’s a fetish and a displacement, doing something minor but very inconvenient to seem to be doing something