Farewell to mercury fluorescent lamps | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Farewell to mercury fluorescent lamps

/ 05:04 AM November 16, 2023

World leaders have finally decided to restrict the use of mercury in lighting devices and identified a phase-out period for compact fluorescent lamps and linear fluorescent lamps (LFLs) by 2025 and 2027, respectively.

In the recent Fifth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Minamata Convention, delegates from 147 countries agreed to phase out linear fluorescent lamps and nonlinear fluorescent and set that all manufacturing, exporting, and importing of LFLs or fluorescent tubes shall end by 2027 globally. This is a very significant move since fluorescents are the main contributors to global mercury pollution in lighting applications. The previous Minamata Fourth Meeting of the Conference of Parties in 2022 has already identified the complete phase-out for compact fluorescent lamps by 2025.

The Minamata Convention is a legally binding global instrument to protect human health and the environment from the toxic effects of mercury. Mercury is a very toxic element that bioaccumulates when it enters the food chain. The toxin is passed from one creature to another and grows in concentration as it moves through the food chain. Hence, the environment has no “safe” level of mercury. A single broken fluorescent thrown into the environment has enough mercury to contaminate 30,000 liters of water, making it unsafe for drinking.

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According to the expert group Clasp, the removal of mercury-containing lighting and complete transition to the use of more eco-friendly alternatives such as LEDs will avoid 2.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, eliminate more than 158 tonnes of mercury pollution, and accumulate more than $1.13 trillion in electricity savings by 2050.

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As a signatory to the Minamata Convention, the Philippines should push for the immediate phase-out of all mercury-containing lamps. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources should immediately revisit its Administrative Order 2019-20: “Revised Chemical Control Order on Mercury and Mercury-compounds,” which continues to allow the sale and use of some mercury-containing devices. The new chemical regulation for mercury should set an updated phase out period as agreed upon in the Minamata Convention and to #MakeMercuryHistory.

Eliminating mercury-containing devices from the market is critical, as the Philippines has limited capacity, infrastructure, and resources to safely collect, store, and ecologically manage all discarded mercury-containing lamps.

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The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (Crest) conducted a market survey to identify alternative lighting for different fluorescent lamps, such as the T5, T8, and T12, commonly used in buildings, workplaces, supermarkets, and hospitals. The group found that LED counterparts for various fluorescent lamps are available at very competitive prices. The boom of LEDs also resulted in lesser demands for T12 linear fluorescents and four-pin compact fluorescents, although these mercury-containing lamps can still be bought in local hardware and online stores. Crest also found that LED manufacturing and assembly plants exist in the country. Indeed, the advancement of LED technology for lighting has already made mercury-containing lamps obsolete.

The Philippine government should continue to strengthen its commitment to eliminate mercury to safeguard the health of the people and the environment. All lighting devices should be safe and not harm public health and the environment. Energy consumers can also declare #FarewellToFluorescents by shifting to clean lighting at home, schools, and workplaces.

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Danielle Lacsamana is the #EndToxicLighting coordinator of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, a public interest group on climate and sustainable energy programs.

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