Consumers can't spot the difference between bulb types

July 28, 2017
Europeans are baffled trying to tell apart LEDs, incandescents, CFLs, and others. Recycling suffers as a result.

Europeans are baffled trying to tell apart LEDs, incandescents, CFLs, and others. Recycling suffers as a result.

It's official: European consumers struggle to tell apart different bulb types, easily confusing LEDs with incandescents, CFLs, metal halides, and others.

Interested in articles & announcements on LED lighting compliance & standards issues?

So declared Brussels-based EucoLight, which cares about the muddle because it oversees lamp recycling in Europe, where different waste procedures can apply for different bulbs.

In a survey, EucoLight showed images of the varieties to consumers in six European countries, and found plenty of bafflement.

“Most consumers have difficulty in differentiating different lamp types,” said Nigel Harvey, a director at EucoLight. “That is why it is logical for all waste lamps to be collected in the same container.” EucoLight looks after lighting industry compliance with the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment [WEEE] law for disposing, recycling, and reusing products and materials.

LEDs Magazine observes that European parlance probably contributes to the confusion, as CFLs (compact fluorescent) are generally known as “energy savers,” but LEDs are not. Even though LEDs are first and foremost associated with energy savings, vendors call them “LEDs,” while reserving the energy saver label for CFLs, which they tend to not call CFL. (Are you following?)

This graphic portrays an Abbott and Costello situation among European consumers, who seem to be asking “Watt's on second?” in trying to differentiate bulb types. (Image credit: EucoLight.)

EucoLight did not address the underlying reason for the confusion. Rather, it focused attention on the lamp recycling implications.

“All types of lamps should be collected together in the same container,” EucoLight said. “This would avoid the risk of consumer confusion between lamps leading to a decrease in recycling efficiency and a possible decline in the recycling rate. It also confirms that it is appropriate for LED and other lamps to be recorded within the same category or subcategory under the WEEE directive.”

EucoLight tapped market research firm GFK to carry out the survey in Spain, Portugal, Holland, Italy, Belgium, and Romania earlier this year.

“In the case of energy-saving lamps, between 27% and 42% of respondents identified them correctly, as opposed to 18–35% who confused them with LED bulbs,” EucoLight noted. “When asked to identify an LED lamp, only between 14% and 23% of respondents classified it correctly, whereas between 31% and 45% thought it was an energy-saving light bulb.”

Although the survey did not cover the UK, EucoLight's Harvey said the results “mirror the situation” there. Harvey also serves as CEO of Recolight, a EucoLight counterpart company that runs WEEE compliance schemes in Britain on a non-profit basis.

Recolight recently alleged that 20% of all bulbs sold through multi-seller websites in the UK fail to comply with WEEE.

MARK HALPERis a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).