Lights Set To Go Out On 'Special Purpose' and 'Rough Service' EU Light Bulb Ban Loophole


On 1 September 2009, the European Commission introduced a directive that aimed to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs across the EU. Designed to take place over a period of three years, it claimed the 100W filament bulb first, followed by the 60W version two years later and by 2012, the process was completed with the removal of the 40W light bulb and all other remaining derivatives. At the time this decision was both pilloried and praised, depending on which side of the fence you were on. However, since the ban's introduction a loophole has remained that enables companies to continue selling bulbs with this same technology - a loophole which, at the end of this month, is set to close.

But what was the ban even for, and why were so many opposed to it? Well, to some it represented a well-intentioned effort on the part of the EU to phase out what is a grotesquely inefficient technology (90% of an incandescent bulb's energy is wasted on heat). To others, it was a reckless and misguided blunder that ignored the dearth of viable, affordable alternatives to replace it.

Indeed despite the UK government's assertion at the time that 'the average annual net benefit to the UK between 2010 and 2020 is predicted to be £108 million', it was also branded as 'illogical [...] wrong, muddle-headed and infuriating' by Michael Hanlon of the Daily Mail.

Despite this, a certain class of incandescent bulb had been exempted from the ban in order to nullify its effect on the trade and industrial sectors. Called 'rough service' or 'special purpose', this range of light bulbs shared the same technology, aesthetics and price as the outgoing incandescent version. However, as long as a bulb was sold under the 'rough service' label, it was entirely legal.

Light bulbs in a bowl

In September 2015 though, the EU have moved to close this loophole. The sale of special purpose bulbs will still be permitted, but from 27 February 2016 a tranche of new amendments to the original 2009 directive will be introduced that clarify how such a bulb is defined.

Once implemented, incandescent bulbs which are longer than 60mm and resistant only to mechanical shocks or vibrations (the current definition of a rough service/special purpose bulb) will no longer be classed as such; thereby resigning them to the doldrums along with those that have gone before. It's worth noting though that this newer, refined definition will not apply to bulbs destined for use in traffic light signalling and image capture technology.

So what does this mean for companies and consumers? Are LED light bulbs still so far behind that this new directive will plunge us all into the literal and metaphorical darkness? With an additional ban on halogen bulbs that was initially set for this year having been delayed until 2018 because of similar concerns over replacement technologies, you might be inclined to think so.

Tom Pratt - General Manager at LightBulbs Direct - doesn't agree:

We welcome the ban [...] The impact will be far less than the 2009 ban due to the wide availability of viable alternatives. Over the last few years, LED technology in particular has matured and dropped in price. There are also quality options available in the CFL (compact fluorescent) and energy saving ranges.

This at least appears to be true. Where a 5W LED GU10 would have cost around £30 in 2009, today they can be picked up for as little £5 or even less depending on where you look. Despite this, LED technology still has a comparatively higher initial cost, but its ability to slash lighting bills thereafter and pay for itself over a relatively short period is sure to encourage people to adopt what is now a mature and established alternative.

Besides, in a few weeks you'll no longer have the option anyway...

Light bulbs in studio

LightBulbs Direct's complete range of LED light bulbs can be found here.

More information on the light bulb ban itself can be found here, while additional information on some of its consequences can be found elsewhere on our blog.