Fluorescent lamps, end of an era?

Have fluorescent lamps had their day? Fluorescent lamps have been a staple of artificial lighting in the UK and across the world for almost a century, but with the EU cracking down on fluorescent tube lighting and the UK set to follow, consultant Tom Marsh outlines the main changes set to impact the UK market and the possible options for those affected.

Why the move away from fluorescent lighting?

The main driving force behind this approach is the environmental implications in using fluorescent lighting. Not only do fluorescent lamps contain mercury, a hazardous substance that is known to be very damaging to the environment, but they are also less energy efficient than the modern alternatives (e.g. LED lighting). In fact, LED lighting can be up to 80% more energy efficient than their mercury containing counterparts. It then follows that the replacing of fluorescent lamps with LED lighting will lead to cheaper energy bills for its adopters and reduced emissions through the generation of the required electricity.

The coming changes

So what is actually happening from a legal perspective? Well, manufacturers, importers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) are currently required to limit the use of certain hazardous substances under The Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2012 (“RoHS regulations”). These restrictions cover substances such as lead, cadmium and the mercury found in our fluorescent lamps. The limit set for mercury by these regulations is currently a 0.1% concentration by the overall weight of EEE.

Exemptions are in place under the RoHS regulations to enable manufacturers, importers and distributors to exceed these limits for certain specified applications. For example, mercury in a single capped (compact) fluorescent lamp for general lighting purposes below 30 watts has a limit of 2.5 mg of mercury per individual burner (full list of exemptions in Great Britain can be found in Schedule A1 to The Hazardous Substances and Packaging (Legislative Functions and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020).

In early 2023, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a determination on these exemptions, outlining changes to be made to enable the phasing out of new fluorescent lamps being placed on the market. These changes are broadly in line with similar action being taken by the EU, albeit on a different timetable. Some of the key points in this phaseout are outlined below.

  • Exemptions for mercury in double-capped linear fluorescent lamps for general lighting purposes are expiring on the 1st February 2024 – this includes T2, T5, T8 and T12 lamps.
  • Exemptions for mercury in single capped (compact) fluorescent lamps for general lighting purposes are expiring on the 1st February 2024.
  • Exemptions relating to specific low pressure discharge lamps (detailed here) are expiring on the 1st February 2024.
  • Exemptions relating to specific high pressure sodium (vapour) lamps (detailed here) are expiring on the 1st February 2024.

The above dates are not a total ban on the use of these florescent lamps, just on their placing on the market. Existing lamp stocks can continue to be used, although it is worth considering that with no new stock being produced the prices of such products will inevitably rise with the increased scarcity (in addition to the fact that they will be more expensive to run when compared to more efficient alternatives).

The upcoming changes may seem daunting for current users of fluorescent lamps, being faced with the choice of either paying increasingly high prices for increasingly scarce stock or biting the bullet and paying to convert all fluorescent lamps with a more modern alternative. But in the long run, you may find the increased efficiency and performance of these alternatives paying for themselves.