The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

A Bright Idea for Making More Profits

Jan 31, 2022

Incandescent bulbs were supposed to be phased out two years ago. Yet over 30% of light bulbs sold in the U.S. in 2020 were incandescent bulbs (except California which phased out most incandescent bulbs in 2020). What’s more, the incandescent bulbs are sold in poor neighborhoods at dollar stores at a low price. Not only are LED lights less available in poorer areas, they tend to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than LED lights sold in wealthier neighborhoods.

Incandescent bulbs are not actually cheaper in the long run than LED bulbs. A typical 60-watt incandescent bulb uses 12 times the electricity as a 5-watt LED that provides nearly the same amount of light. And LED lights last far longer. This adds up to lower electric bills and spending less on replacement bulbs. Over time the savings can add up to hundreds of dollars. Lighting accounts for as much as a fifth of the average U.S. household’s electricity bill, and low-income households spend a disproportionately large part of their income on utilities.

Using less energy also means that LED lights are better for the environment. Continuing to use incandescent bulbs dumps hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is emitted by fossil-fuel (coal, oil, natural gas) burning power plants. It is one of the main greenhouse gases behind climate change, which is making our planet warmer.

The world’s biggest light bulb makers stopped the law Congress established in 2007 and signed into law by George W. Bush, which would have eliminated virtually all incandescent bulbs by 2020. In 2017, the industry sued. This led the Trump administration to roll back the standards for new bulbs.

Signify, the Dutch multinational that makes Philips light bulbs, has larger profit margins for the inefficient, outdated light bulbs. That is partly because investment in manufacturing equipment has long been paid off (incandescent bulbs have been around for more than a century). On the other hand, the LED market has attracted new manufacturers and required an investment in new technology and equipment.

Signify is now requesting to keep manufacturing these outdated bulbs for another year followed by another open-ended amount of time to sell out stockpiled inventory. They argue the wasted bulbs will wind up in landfills. Of course, used bulbs also end up in landfills.

The big light bulb manufacturers’ strategy of delaying the implementation of the new energy saving standards has allowed them to keep their profit margins high on the backs of people who can least afford it and at the expense of the environment we all depend on for our lives.