Standard incandescent light bulbs are now an endangered species.
A phase-out underway means consumers who haven’t already made the switch will soon have to start buying more energy efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs instead.
B.C. banned new imports of old 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs Jan. 1, although wholesalers and retailers are allowed to continue selling off their existing stock.
That means for some weeks and perhaps months, hold-outs should be able to buy and stockpile higher-wattage old-style bulbs before they become a retro rarity.
“We’ve had quite a run on incandescent light bulbs,” said James Price, owner of Ladner Village Hardware.
He hasn’t run out yet – the store still expects to get more shipments of standard bulbs before they vanish from warehouses altogether.
“A lot of people don’t like the colour of the light with the CFLs,” he said, adding some of his customers are hoarding old bulbs.
“They’re used to turning a light on and it’s on. CFLs start dim and get brighter, so they’re not as convenient.”
Price said large incandescent flood lights have already become harder to find, even for retailers.
And he’s stockpiling as many incandescent Christmas light strings as possible for customers who prefer them.
Surrey’s Paul Hillsdon won’t be among shoppers rooting out the last regular bulbs.
His family switched more than seven years ago to the lower-energy compact fluorescents, which cost more up front but use 75 per cent less energy than an incandescent and last up to 10 times longer.
“The cost savings were there, so why not switch?” Hillsdon asked.
Others hate the new CFLs and plan to hoard old bulbs as long as possible.
“I stocked up today,” said one poster on an online forum.
“CFLs may use less energy in general but their lighting is cold, you cannot use them with a dimmer, without additional circuitry, and they’re butt ugly,” said Vancouver’s Paul Greasby.
“If they want to save the environment they should start with the stores themselves who waste vast amounts of electricity 24/7 but then charge you five cents for a bag because ‘it helps the environment.'”
B.C. Hydro says the bulb switch, which will also be mandated nationally, is needed because 66 per cent of its additional electricity requirements must be met by efficiency and conservation by 2020.
Some critics challenge the environmental case for CFLs.
They question whether the bulbs last as long in practice – when people turn them on and off frequently – as they do in continuous-use tests.
And dead CFL bulbs are considered household hazardous waste because they each contain about four mg of mercury.
Recycling depots and many retailers collect compact fluorescent bulbs for recycling and assure safe handling.
Many of them go to Langley-based Edmonds Recycling, which uses special machinery to safely crush the bulbs and capture the mercury vapour they emit.
But some people still toss the bulbs in the garbage, where they can end up in the landfill or even incinerated at the Burnaby Waste-to-Energy plant, where they can contribute to mercury air or groundwater pollution.
Metro Vancouver officials last year said it’s an issue of concern and more must be done to boost the recycling rate of CFL bulbs in the region as a result.
B.C. Hydro says the amount of mercury in a CFL is tiny compared to amalgam fillings or a watch battery.
Saving power by using a CFL also avoids the generation of dirtier coal-fired electricity, avoiding mercury and toxic emissions in those areas.
However the corporation advises you open a window and vacate a room for 15 minutes if a CFL breaks and then use precautions in cleaning up.
According to Edmonds, only an estimated seven per cent of the 60 million fluorescents replaced nationally year year are recycled, which suggests significant amounts of mercury may be entering the environment.
Over the long term, LED lights are expected to increase in power and brightness, offering an eventual alternative to CFLs.