Preferred green lights not so green, warns expert

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am

Energy-saving lighting promoted by the government is, in fact, damaging the environment, a Hong Kong energy specialist has warned.

The bulbs had a much shorter lifespan than later models and would be time bomb for future generations because they poisoned the soil.

Ron Hui Shu-yeun, professor (chair) of electronic engineering at City University, said the government and companies were wrong to assume that energy-saving products were necessarily good for the environment.

It was no good having products that saved energy but polluted soil and water.

Professor Hui said the electronic compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) the government promoted lasted just over one year (10,000 hours), whereas the newer technology of detachable magnetic CFLs could last at least 17 years, were cheaper and were better for the environment.

'So if I use an electronic CFL to save energy for one year and then let all the toxic chemicals and metals pollute soil and water for thousands of years, it does not make sense,' Professor Hui said.

The electronic CFL consists of a glass tube containing mercury and an electronic ballast, or control.

The glass element can last three to four years but is thrown out with the ballast after just one year, he said. Professor Hui said the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department had been promoting this old technology since early 2001.

'I'm not disputing its ability to save energy, but there is an alternative technology that can save a similar amount of energy without generating electronic waste,' he said.

Professor Hui said the magnetic CFLs would be best used in large car parks or for street lighting and housing estates. He said they were already providing the street lighting for two cities on the mainland.

Magnetic CFLs consist of two detachable parts: the glass tube, which still has mercury but can be used for its full lifetime of three to four years, plus a ballast which can last at least 17 times its electronic equivalent, if not longer.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said: 'While electro-magnetic CFLs have a longer lifespan, the electronic ones are more energy efficient.'

A spokesman for the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said electronic CFLs had smaller fittings and were more convenient.

Both departments said landfill technology in Hong Kong provided for the safe disposal of electronic CFLS.

The Environmental Protection Department spokesman said it encouraged property management companies and the trade to set up collection systems for the proper disposal of used CFLs.'

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, said that as with recycled paper years ago, the government needed to lead the way in promoting magnetic CFLs.

Longer lifespan

The minimum number of years magnetic compact fluorescent lamps can last 17