US Light Bulb Phase-out – What You Need To Know

There seems to be a bit of confusion over incandescent light bulb phase-out in the USA, so I thought I’d take a shot at clarifying things as much for my own education as anything.

Legislation passed back in 2007 established a phase-out schedule for most incandescent bulbs; starting with 100 watt light bulbs in 2011 in California and on January 1 this year for the remainder of the USA and its territories. 

75W light bulbs will be phased out next year and the 60W and 40W light bulbs will disappear in 2014.

Although Congress threw a spanner in the works in December 2011 in terms of the January 1 2012 start date by delaying its formal commencement until October 2012, the nation’s bulb manufacturers and major retailers have stuck to the original January 1 date.

.. and kudos to them for doing so!

Consumers will still be able to buy 100 watt bulbs for a while, until stocks run out – which is expected to happen around mid-2012. From what I’ve read, some folks have been hoarding the darned things. 

Incandescent bulbs are incredibly energy intensive considering only 10% of the electricity they consume is converted to light – the rest is wasted as heat. That wasted heat is money and often coal being burned. Still, some folks say they prefer the type of light they generate – but perhaps they haven’t tried the latest generation of alternative lighting technology. It’s certainly come a long way.

New packaging requirements have also commenced where the term “watts” is replaced with “lumens”. The reason for this is a watt is a unit of power, whereas lumen is a unit of light.

While packaging will offer some sort of “watt-equivalent” detail as well, here’s how the new ratings translate for clear, frosted and soft white general service light bulbs. 

100 watt = 1490-2600 lumens
75 watt = 1050-1489 lumens
60 watt= 750-1049 lumens
40 watt = 310-749 lumens

That information comes from the American Lighting Association; which also lists a table for modified spectrum general service incandescent light bulbs. 

Additional packaging labeling requirements also offers consumers a greater amount of information to help them make a more informed lighting choice.

The types of light bulbs US folks will be replacing their incandescents with will be either halogen or xenon hybrid bulbs that scrape past in terms of the new efficiency requirements; or Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and LED bulbs – both of which blast past it, with a *quality* LED bulb being the king of efficiency and serviceable life.

CFL’s are well established in the market and very reasonably priced these days. Given the increase of recycling points, the small amount of mercury CFL’s contain has become less of an issue.

LED’s can be a different kettle of fish when it comes to quality in some cases – you just need to be careful what you purchase; particularly given their higher price tag. James Stapledon from Lighting Matters recently contributed an article to Green Living Tips with some tips on choosing LED light bulbs you may find useful.
So, back to the attempt at delaying the phase-out – what happened?
The way I understand it is a few politicians and lawmakers whipped up a bit of a storm and the basis for their objection to the phase-out was largely based on freedom of choice – and the usual cries of jobs and whatever else they could dream up. We faced a similar situation in Australia prior to our phase-out.

After the usual sabre-rattling and to-and-fro that seems to occur whenever legislation of benefit to the environment, and therefore the people, needs to be introduced; a one-year bill was passed in December that states the Department of Energy won’t be able to spend money on enforcing the requirements until October. As mentioned, retailers and manufacturers are thankfully respecting the original January 1 date in relation to the production and importation of incandescent bulbs of their own accord.

Those who were saying people should be free to choose a terribly inefficient product with a marked environmental impact when better alternatives (that would even save the people they claimed to care about money) are readily available I find quite curious.

Don’t we have more than enough destructive items still freely available to us? This situation also goes way beyond the real or imagined rights of the individual.

Imagine giving your children a high level of freedom of choice. Of course, you wouldn’t do it – they would only get themselves in trouble. But we aren’t children of course – we have much, much more common sense than our children.

Or do we?

We happily sprayed CFC’s in the air until they were banned. We would wipe out fish species in our waterways without bag limits. Some of us would still smoke in supermarkets if we could.

The few do spoil it for the many and that is why legislation is needed at times as even a few percent of a population can translate into millions of people wreaking havoc while exercising their freedom of choice.

However, in the case of light bulbs, the “few” actually would have been “many” as old habits die hard. Market forces may have driven the change eventually, but with a planet in crisis and this being reasonably low hanging fruit; it makes sense to make write the phase-out into law and force positive change in a shorter period of time. After all, the greenest watt is the one you don’t have to generate.

Like freedom of speech, freedom of choice is not freedom from responsibility – but that’s what some really want and believe it means; which is just the worst form of anarchy in my opinion and the crux of many of the environmental and other problems we face today.

Anyway, congrats to the USA – and don’t worry, Australia implemented a similar phase-out some time ago and we’re still doing OK. 

As far as I know, not a single person has died in Australia as a result of our incandescent phase-out and there were no riots; but the switch away from incandescent light bulbs has saved a great deal of electricity and related emissions.

Even in our comparatively small nation of some 23 million, the switch will have saved around 30 terawatt hours of electricity and 28 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the date of its commencement and 2020; equivalent to permanently decommissioning a small coal-fired power station or permanently taking more than half a million cars off the road.

Imagine what the USA will save.


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