EU plans to free imports of Chinese light bulbs

Posted July 23, 2009 // Tagged as News Clippings // 2 Comments ↓

Is it right that we buy these lamps from China? There is additional embodied energy cost in shipping, invariably some will be lost at sea polluting the ocean with mercury and other contaminants. We are on one hand exporting the dirty manufacture of these lamps to China while berating China for increasing pollution and CO2 emission from factories and power stations to make products for us. We also do not know about the human cost on the Chinese workers dealing with mercury and other contaminants in conditions that are far less rigorous for worker safety than in Europe or the USA.

It is worth noting that the major multinational lamp companies Philips and GE are in favour of these proposals as they increasingly source their branded products from Chinese manufacturers.


2 Responses

  1. Peter-Dublin

    July 24th, 2009 at 11:37

    Yes, this is of course yet another angle to the needless ban…

    Thanks for the article info, adding link here.
    (How industrial politics behind the ban has continued since then,
    More on China and mercury )

  2. peter

    October 15th, 2009 at 10:30

    On the Economics of a ban,
    see this good article by a respected financial journalist
    (Martin Hutchinson, )

    September 2009

    The European Union’s new ban on incandescent light bulbs violates simple economic principles and imposes substantial hidden costs on the economy. Fluorescent bulbs don’t work as claimed and have considerable disposal problems. If the new bulbs were better, consumers would choose them naturally, and could be nudged to do so by a carbon tax.

    The EU ban is an attempt to forward a policy goal — combating global warming — by statutory means. As such, it resembles the Corporate Average Fuel Economy restrictions, imposed on the U.S. automobile industry by Congress in 1975.

    Such legislation imposes substantial costs on both consumers and the economy, but hides them so that legislators avoid blame. It often has perverse consequences; in the case of CAFE standards consumers switched to sport-utility vehicles, less fuel-efficient than comparable saloons but outside the scope of the initial law. The long-term cost of those standards arguably included a significant contribution to the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.

    Such policy goals can better be met by explicit taxes, which are not fully dead-weights on the economy, but fund government and substitute for other taxes. They also impose clear costs on oil consumption or carbon emission, allowing consumers to make their own purchase decisions with those costs taken into account.

    Compact fluorescent light bulbs’ up-front cost, while higher than that of incandescent bulbs, is now low enough that if the claimed energy savings were real and inconveniences modest, rational consumers would switch.

    However, CFLBs emit considerably less light than is claimed, and a substantial percentage burn out before their expected lifespan, somewhat offsetting the net cost saving from installing them. Moreover, consumers are heavily inconvenienced in their disposal, since they contain toxic mercury, which is illegal to discard in ordinary trash.

    Had governments enforced truthfulness in claims of CFLBs’ efficiency and lifespan, and provided convenient disposal mechanisms, many consumers would have switched voluntarily. Then the additional energy usage by the holdouts would have been modest and declining.

    Forcing consumers to switch imposes arbitrary costs, especially on those who for health or other reasons want to remain with incandescent bulbs. It also violates market principles of consumer freedom of choice.

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