EU Bans Halogen Bulbs: How the Environment Depends On Lifestyle Changes

With the increase of scientific research and the growing dominance of environmental movements policies to combat further damage to ecosystems, like the widespread plastic straw ban are gaining momentum . After 60 years in the market, halogen light bulbs are now banned in Europe as of 1 September 2018. This represents a part of Europe’s various efforts to limit environmental damage.

The European Commission’s (EC) spokeswoman for climate action and energy Anna-Kaisa Itkonen claims that phasing out these lights will “save 15.2mil tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2025…this is the equivalent to the emissions generate by around 2 million people per year.” To put this in perspective, an estimate of the yearly energy savings with this ban in effect is equal to the entire country of Portugal’s annual electricity consumption. The European Union (EU) concludes that Europeans will be able to save EUR 115 over the LED’s lifetime and pay back its cost within one year. The ban is also expected to reduce oil imports to the EU by 75 million barrels per year.

In place of halogen light bulbs, the EU’s ban is aimed to promote making a permanent switch to energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LED) technology. The EU estimates that 500 million halogen bulbs are being used in European homes. If all were replaced with LED, every household would save an average of EUR 46 per year and enough cumulative energy to power 11 million homes. 

Halogen is essentially an incandescent bulb consisting of a tungsten filament surrounded by a mixture of inert gas and small amounts of halogen like iodine or bromine. These light bulbs can be used at a higher temperature than standard gas-filled lamps and therefore, have more light than traditional incandescent bulbs. Brighter lights are not without cost, however, as halogen is rated “D” for energy efficiency: the lowest rating available under EU guidelines. Specifically, incandescent bulbs are only 20% energy efficient, meaning 80% of electricity is lost as heat.

LED, on the other hand, consumes five times less energy than halogen light bulbs. It has evolved, with advancements in technology, to be highly efficient A++ rated lights: LED produces 120 lumens per watt, while traditional halogen bulbs produce only 12 lumens per watt. This level of energy efficiency allows for LED bulbs to have an operational lifetime expectation of 100,000 hours (i.e. 11 years of continuous operation or 22 years of 50% operation). Current EU legislation around lighting saved approximately 41 teraWatts (TWh/a) of electricity in 2015, which is comparable to Estonia’s annual energy consumption. However, with the halogen ban, there is a potential to save 93 TWh/a by 2020.

The authorization of the ban has been met with backlash, especially from Brexit advocates who use the ban to underscore their message of the EU’s “relentless nanny state intervention.” A member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) of the European Parliament in London Gerard Batten has gone on record promoting the idea that, “if you don’t like [the ban], and thousands of other pieces of EU law, then we have to leave.” Jonathan Bullock, UKIP’s energy spokesman in the European Parliament, also said to The Guardian, “The EU’s attempt to ban halogen bulbs is wrong because consumers will suffer financially and it’s always the poorest who suggest most from these kinds of policies…customers should have the freedom of choice in bulbs and it shouldn’t be imposed by the EU.”

Yet, the ban is also expected to incur significant economic benefits for Europe. Since halogen consumes more energy per use, it has a shorter lifespan of two years compared to LED, which has a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. As a result, the switch to LED bulbs would save consumers EUR115 over each bulb’s lifetime and its cost would be paid back in less than a year even though halogen bulbs cost less individually. Moreover, as demand for environmentally-conscious products and alternatives grows, the market expands and so prices for a typical LED light for households have become competitive in recent years, falling 75% between 2010 and 2017.

Neither is this ban sudden. Instead, it is the end stages of the EU directive, EC 244/2009, which aims to improve energy efficiency and cut carbon emissions. The first policy implemented was the ban of traditional incandescent light bulbs in 2009. Halogen bulbs were initially expected to be phased out beginning September 2016 when this directive was passed, but the EC concluded more time was needed to make the transition from halogen to LED. Thus, the ban was delayed until 2018. As well, there is no obligation for consumers to change their bulbs instantly as the law only affects producers. The ban is specifically on the production, sale, and import of globe and candle-shaped halogen bulbs. Remaining stocks of such bulbs can still be sold and some bulbs (capsule, linear, and low-voltage reflector bulbs) are exempt from the ban. Therefore, consumers still retain economic freedoms and are not blind-sided.

Though such a ban seems inadequate and inconvenient, buildings account for 40% of Europe’s energy consumption and lighting for 15% of that. This amounts to a carbon footprint that is higher than aviation and shipping combined. Trivial lifestyle changes, when undertaken collectively, can result in large-scale, positive impacts. The idea that the environment and the economy cannot grow and prosper congruently needs to be discredited. The EC has been transparent with the ban’s economic value, as well as its implications. They report an estimated 6,800 job losses in halogen production due to the ban, however, this is considered inevitable since the EC presumes it was only a matter of time before LED replaced halogen. As Eliot Whittington, director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, articulated, “We can’t allow the human costs of climate change to reach the levels they will, if we fail to act. You ban things that threaten public safety and the wasteful use of energy is dangerous for us all in the end.” Environmental policies should not be used as a battleground or as a tactic to push political agendas, because while politicizing the environment can advance it, such actions can make the state of the environment seem negotiable and minor.

Sofia Lopez