Plans for a ban on power-eating incandescent light bulbs have been scrapped in favour of a voluntary scheme to phase them out from next year. The decision was made by environment officials who say a public consultation that closed more than a year ago found no majority public support for a mandatory approach. Instead, they will ask light bulb suppliers and retailers to sign a charter pledging not to replenish stocks of selected bulbs from the first quarter of next year and stop selling them by the end of the year. The decision disappointed Friends of the Earth, which says it flies in the face of international trends. The charter will first cover incandescent light bulbs of 25 watts or above without light-concentrating reflectors. Others may be added after a review. Officials had proposed legislation to eliminate the bulbs from the market, saying it would be faster and more effective than voluntary measures or market forces. But now they say a legal ban will take three years to introduce, including a one-year grace period, and that is too long, according to a paper submitted to lawmakers by the Environment Bureau yesterday. Charter signatories will be required to submit sales data to the government quarterly for monitoring and display on a public website. Only if the charter fails will the government reconsider legislation, the paper said. Traditional light bulbs, sold for a few dollars each, consume more energy than alternatives such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) as 90 per cent of the energy goes to heat rather than light. But CFLs carry more toxic substances like mercury and require far more energy to manufacture. Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said she was disappointed by the lack of a ban. "It is a regressive move, and against the international trend," she said. Yeung said officials had wasted too much time on the matter and the proposed approach would not encourage more energy-efficient lighting devices. A spokeswoman in Hong Kong for Philips, one of the largest light-bulb suppliers, said officials had approached the company a few weeks ago but it would not decide whether to join the charter until it had more details. "If the charter is supported across the industry, we would be happy to join," she said, adding that the company favoured a mandatory ban over the voluntary charter. In 2011, about 13.5 million incandescent bulbs were sold.