Lighting without polluting
Updated: 2011-12-19 07:49
China has decided to phase out and completely ban incandescent light bulbs before 2016.
Replacing incandescent bulbs with energy saving ones is an inexorable global trend, as they save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emission. Statistics show incandescent bulbs accounted for 30 percent of light bulb sales in China last year and that power for lighting accounted for 12 percent of the country's overall power consumption. If all the incandescent bulbs in China are replaced by energy saving ones, 48 billion kilowatt hours of electricity can be saved each year, equivalent to a reduction of 48 million tons of carbon emissions. However, this cannot be accomplished overnight.
According to a survey conducted by China Youth Daily, even though 85.7 percent of respondents supported energy saving bulbs, 84.8 percent of them considered the price of energy saving bulbs - about 5 times the price of incandescent bulbs - too high. This problem has been addressed by some local governments, which provide subsidies for energy saving bulbs, lowering the price by half. More than 500 million bulbs have been sold in this way.
But another problem is that substandard energy saving bulbs are widely sold in the market, especially in rural areas. Less than 40 percent of bulbs in the Chinese market meet official quality standards, statistics show. A sample test of products from 33 producers of energy saving bulbs in China shows that more than 20 percent do not save any energy at all.
But even if everyone starts to use energy saving bulbs there is still the problem of how to deal with the mercury used in energy saving bulbs. One energy saving bulb contains about 5 milligrams of mercury, which is enough to contaminate 1,800 tons of water. And, once an energy saving bulb breaks, the mercury density in the air surrounding it will be hundreds of times higher than the normal level for a short duration. There are no agencies in China responsible for collecting and recycling used energy saving bulbs. Most city residents just throw them into dustbins. Rural residents have no choice but to discard used bulbs along with their household refuse. Most of the waste ends up in landfills. In this way mercury enters the ecological system and food chain.
Therefore, the authorities' decision to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy saving ones before 2016 cannot fulfill its environmental goals without supporting measures. These should include making the bulbs more affordable to ordinary people, strengthening quality supervision, and establishing special agencies to collect and recycle used bulbs so that the mercury and glass can be reused and mercury contamination can be prevented.