In just three weeks, the final stage of the EU phase-out of incandescent light bulbs will start. The EU campaign began in December 2008 with the EU Commission’s Ecodesign Directive stating that the manufacturing and sale of “light bulbs with low energy efficiency” would be forbidden in member states after a gradual phase-out.
The directive has led many people to do what most only do in dire emergencies – hoard – because they don’t want to use the EU-approved energy saving bulbs. It doesn’t appear to bother even the environmentally-conscious Germans that the old light bulbs – which some hoard in fork-lift pallet quantities – only turn 5% of the energy into light and the rest into heat, thus giving them a significant carbon footprint.
As of September 1, light bulbs with clear glass that do not meet certain minimum energy efficiency requirements – as is the case with the old regular light bulbs – are forbidden and must be replaced by energy saving bulbs. The new bulbs, filled with toxic mercury, produce a cold, blue-ish light for about two minutes before they reach full efficiency and the color of light featured on their packaging. They cost several times more than the regular bulbs.
Hoarding, loopholes and profit
If outlets selling light bulbs have been doing overtime meeting the demand of hoarders, manufacturers have been busy too -- in fact, they’ve found a loophole in the EU directive that they are presently turning into a hefty profit. The EU directive concerns “household” bulbs but does not address “special-purpose” bulbs. Household bulbs as their name implies are meant for home use, whereas special-purpose bulbs, which are more sturdily made, can also be used in farm outbuildings, gardens, saunas, and more. By law, special-purpose bulbs have to state on the packaging that they are not intended for household use. But they are perfectly fine for such use, as every manufacturer and savvy consumer knows.
So sales of special-purpose light bulbs are currently going through the roof. Every retailer worth his or her salt carries them -- and nobody asks customers exactly what “special purpose” they are going to be using the bulbs for.
The catalogue of German luxury mail order firm Manufactum features a whole selection of these special-purpose bulbs and while the text does say that they are “not designated” for use in the home, it adds that they are “unreservedly suitable” for such use.