In September 2022, California banned the sale and distribution of fluorescent lamps over the next few years. In doing so, California joined Vermont, the European Union and soon, possibly, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Typically, when governments have wanted to shift the market toward more energy-efficient lighting, they have done so by enacting energy standards affecting manufacture and import. In December 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), for example, proposed new energy standards for general-service lamps expected to eliminate the majority of medium-base compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) from the market by the end of the decade.
In the case of Vermont and California, however, sale and distribution are prohibited, and the reason isn’t just energy; it’s about the mercury, a strong and persistent heavy metal toxic to humans and the environment.
In 2013, the Minamata Convention called for measures to reduce mercury use, which included a phase-out and reduction in mercury use in various products such as fluorescent lamps. Currently, 137 countries have signed on to the convention, which calls for the phase-out of CFLs by 2025. The Clean Lighting Coalition has called on the Biden administration to ban fluorescent lamps by 2025.
Fluorescent lamps contain a small amount of mercury, but it adds up. According to a March 2022 report by the Clean Lighting Coalition, eliminating fluorescent lighting would prevent lamps containing 8 tons of mercury from being sold and installed through 2050. Converting all fluorescent lighting to more-efficient LEDs would also reduce airborne mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to the tune of 966 pounds through 2050, according to the report.
To the rules
In December 2021, the European Union revised its Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances policy that is expected to effectively phase out nearly all fluorescent lamps by September 2023. In January 2023, the United Kingdom proposed energy standards that would eliminate many linear and compact fluorescent lamps, as well as HID and halogen lamps.
At the end of 2022, Canada’s environmental and health departments proposed amendments to the 1999 Canadian Environmental Protection Act that would prohibit manufacture/import on Dec. 31, 2023, and sales on Dec. 31, 2026, for linear fluorescent, various CFL, induction fluorescent, metal halide and other lamps. Another rule would prohibit manufacture/import in 2028 and sales in 2031 for certain high-pressure sodium and horticultural fluorescent lamps.
In the United States, in February 2022, Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued a determination eliminating the sale, offering for sale and delivery to a retailer for sale of screw-base CFLs. The rule was set to go into effect in February 2023. In May 2022, the state followed up with legislation banning the sale of 4-foot linear fluorescent lamps, effective Jan. 1, 2024.
In September 2022, California joined Vermont by banning the sale and distribution of CFLs and linear fluorescent lamps, going further by eliminating linear fluorescent lamps up to 8 feet in length. Screw and bayonet-base CFLs are prohibited starting Jan. 1, 2024, and pin-based starting Jan. 1, 2025. Linear fluorescent lamps—from ½ to 8 feet, two end caps with any base types, and all diameters and shapes—are prohibited starting Jan. 1, 2025. Various lamps are exempted, including those used for image capture and projection, disinfection, tanning and other specialized uses.
At the federal level, the DOE recently proposed new energy standards that would eliminate many CFLs.
These bans and standards will hasten what the market is already accomplishing. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) estimates that, of member general-service (linear) fluorescent lamp shipments provided to the DOE, shipments fell from roughly 400 million lamps in 2015 to roughly 60 million in 2022. DOE projected that by 2026, shipments would further decline to around 10 million lamps.
Looking at CFLs, as of the first quarter of 2022, CFLs held only 0.7% of the A-line consumer market, according to NEMA’s Lamp Indices.
LEDs to the rescue
So if fluorescent lamps are banned in a jurisdiction, what is the alternative? The obvious answer is LED, which is roughly twice as energy-efficient and offers a longer service life. LED technology is steadily displacing fluorescent, eliminating embodied mercury while presenting significant energy and carbon savings. In the consumer A-line market, for example, LED lamps are fairly dominant, holding an 80% share, according to NEMA. In commercial buildings needing to upgrade to LED, owners would have a choice of installing retrofit lamps or new luminaires.
Overall, these bans are a sign of the times as the world of lighting continues to shift to LED, hastened by government action that considers not just dollars and cents, but the environmental effect.
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About The Author
DiLouie, L.C. is a journalist and educator specializing in the lighting industry. Learn more at ZINGinc.com and LightNOWblog.com.