Blogs & Comment

Banning incandescent bulbs easier said than done

As Ottawa delays ban, desirable replacements still few and far between.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Back in 2007, when Ottawa announced its plan to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs by 2012, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn sounded pretty sure of himself. “Today, we’re making a commitment to set performance standards,” he told reporters. “These new regulations will be in place by the end of this year and, within five years, all of those energy-inefficient lighting and bulbs, they’re going to be gone.”

Not quite. In March, the government decided to delay the implementation of the ban until 2014. As a department spokeswoman told Canadian Business: “The delay is required in order to consider the concerns expressed about availability of compliant technologies and perceived health and mercury issues, including safe disposal for compact fluorescent lamps.” Though a number of provinces have planned similar bans, B.C., which implemented a ban on 75W and 100W incandescent bulbs in January, is the first to go through with it.

Concern over the disposal of compact fluorescents (CFLs), is due to the small amount of mercury they contain. For their part, Environment Canada told Canadian Business that a proposal for new product regulations will “significantly reduce the mercury content,” and that efforts to improve recycling options are underway.

But the government’s rationale for the delay also touches on another very real problem: the availability of reliable, desirable replacements. When Sears Canada decided to replace all the incandescent spotlights with a more energy efficient option, assistant vice-president James Gray-Donald says the company quickly ruled out CFLs, opting to go with LED lights instead. (As this helpful Popular Mechanics article explains, though more expensive, LEDs are in many ways thought to be the next generation of energy-efficient lighting.) “The CFLs don’t provide the same punch for spot lighting, in terms of the directionality of the light and the exact colour tone we were looking for,” he said in an interview. “We want to replicate the colour of our existing spotlights and LED could do that precisely.”

However, not all LED products are created equal. As Gray-Donald explains, when Sears selected its manufacturer, the retailer tested about 10 different options, many of which failed to meet the company’s expectations. “A number of manufacturers, their products failed quite quickly. Either the colour changed or the bulbs failed completely,” he says.  In the end, Sears went with Sylvania—which it tapped to handle two massive orders totaling 130,000 bulbs. (He says the company expects the $4.7 million investment to pay off in just under three years, at which point it will save more than $1.5 million per year.)

On the customer side, Sears, which in May announced it will become the first national retailer in Canada to ban the sale of incandescent and halogen lights, plans to offer both CFLs and LEDs to its customers (Gray-Donald says CFLs are still a good choice for some lighting options). But as the retailer’s experience suggests, in many ways, energy-efficient lighting still has a long way to go. Says Gray-Donald: “We’re very cautious about an endorsement of all LED product and encourage people to choose a vendor who offers a warranty or has a very strong history of producing high-quality lighting products.”