BulbHow many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb?

Hard to say for sure but it looks like they've almost done it! The NZ Government announced yesterday that NZ will phase out incandescent light bulbs in 2009.

According to David Parker the move will cut lighting energy consumption by 20 percent by 2015 and save up to NZ$500 million ($376 million) by 2020. This is good news - especially in light of today's announcement that our co2 emissions continue to rise.

The technology used in incandescent bulbs has changed little since they were first invented in the 1870s. They are incredibly inefficient converting only about 5 percent of the energy that they consume into light. The rest is just wasted heat. For the same amount of light output, compact fluorescents use much less energy: A 25 Watt compact fluorescent gives about the same amount of light as a 75 Watt incandescent ... and it lasts over 10 times longer.

As a nation we have to become more energy efficient. Changing light bulbs is an important step in this direction but there are lots of other things we can do too.

As with anything new there's some misconceptions and resistance to changing bulbs so I thought it might be useful to post some myth busting facts about light bulbs.

Aren’t Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) really big and ugly? These days, the range of energy saving bulbs on sale is huge. You can get them in all shapes and sizes, including some that look almost exactly the same as traditional incandescents.

Don’t they flicker? They used to. It all depends on whether one particular component, the ballast, is magnetic or electronic. The ballast used to be magnetic, causing flickering. Nowadays, the electronic ballasts are much more common, eliminating the flickering and the slow starting traditionally associated with fluorescent lighting.

I’ve heard they don’t work with dimmer switches It seems that some do and some don’t. I found this in the US but I haven't been able to confirm that they are available in NZ yet. Anyone?

The light they produce is cold and white Again, things have moved on. CFLs are now available in all sorts of colours and tones, producing a very similar quality of light to incandescent bulbs.

CFLs contain more mercury than incandescents All CFLs and fluorescent tubes contain a small amount of mercury, which is key in producing the light. It’s not ideal but incandescents are probably responsible for more mercury emissions than CFLs; burning coal for electricity emits mercury, and incandescents use much, much more energy. CFLs can be safely disposed of.

Here's what the Ministry for the Environment say:


Energy saving and other mercury-containing lamps, such as the fluorescent tubes, should be recycled to ensure that the mercury is collected and recycled in an environmentally safe manner. Some councils provide an annual or periodic hazardous waste collection, the HazMobile. If you are uncertain as to what you should be doing, approach your local council and ask them how you can recycle your fluorescent tubes and energy saving lamps. There is also a company that offers a collection and recycling service for which there is a charge (for further information see: www.interwaste.co.nz). This could be a good option for a larger building or facility that is carrying out a bulk upgrade of its lighting, such as a school, community centre or hospital.


If your fluorescent lamp breaks, your greatest risk is being cut by broken glass. As a precaution, we advise you to wear gloves when handling the broken lamp and open doors and windows to ventilate the room. Put the broken pieces in a plastic bag then wrap with paper to prevent cuts. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up any smaller shards of glass, powder or liquid. Dispose of the paper towels, gloves and any cloths used to clean the area by placing in a plastic bag with your household rubbish. Do not vacuum the site as this can disperse the particles. For larger spills of mercury (not from lamps) please contact The National Poison Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, who provide further advice if required. www.poisons.co.nz/ 0800 POISON/0800 764 766.


(Incandescent lamps can not be recycled. They must be disposed of with the usual household rubbish and end up in landfill. )

The range is really small Not any more! Check out our gallery and have a look at the range of more than 100 varieties available from this retailer. If you can’t find what you want locally, buy online or ask your supermarket to increase their range.

Aren’t they really expensive? While the prices of CFLs vary hugely (depending on quality, design, colour, life span etc.), A good quality CFL costs on average $6 at normal retail price and lasts 8-10 times as long as an ordinary bulb. Cheaper poorer quality bulbs are available for about $2 but have a shorter lifetime.

Aren’t some people allergic to fluorescent light? Some people who suffer from ultraviolet (UV) or more general light sensitivity report that they have difficulty tolerating fluorescent lighting. It’s not clear how many people in the UK are affected by such sensitivities, but there's no reason why incandescent lighting couldn’t continue to be made available to those people, perhaps via doctor's prescription.