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Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps

1. Why is mercury tolerated in compact fluorescent light bulbs?

    Traditional incandescent light bulbs are very energy-inefficient and are being phased out in the EU. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are a popular alternative because they are cheaper to run and are more environmentally friendly: CFLs use less energy than other lamps, so power stations need to burn less coal and gas to produce electricity and this leads to lower carbon dioxide and other emissions.

    As opposed to incandescent or halogen light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps contain mercury. The mercury content cannot escape from the lamps, except if they break accidentally or if they are discarded with unsorted household waste rather than recycled appropriately. If consumers take back their burned-out lamps to collection points, the mercury content will be recycled and not released to the environment.

    The directive on the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (2002/95/EC), in short RoHS directive, generally forbids mercury in electronic and electronic equipment with some exemptions in duly motivated cases, such as CFLs.

    The mercury tolerance for Compact fluorescent lamps is currently set at 5 mg per lamp and is subjected to reviewed on a regular basis.

    [Note: It is scheduled to be gradually lowered to 3.5 mg in 2012 and 2.5 mg from 2013 on with some variations depending on the specific lamp type. (Source: amended RoHS directive )]

    The complete elimination of mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs is still technically and scientifically impracticable though reductions have been achieved.

    The commission regulation (No 244/2009) implementing the ecodesign directive (2005/32/EC) sets ecodesign requirements that that household lamps, other than light spots, must meet and indicates that the compact fluorescent lamps with the lowest mercury content include no more than 1,23 mg. More...

      Mercury content per bulb Source
    Maximum until 2011 5 mg RoHS directive
    Maximum in 2012 3.5 mg
    Maximum from 2013 on 2.5 mg
    Indicative benchmark 1.23 mg Ecodesign regulation

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