The Commission has adopted a package of rules ending a broad range of existing exemptions for the use of mercury in lamps. Under EU rules restricting the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS Directive), electronics that contain mercury cannot be placed on the market, except if time-limited and application-specific exemptions are granted by the Commission. Most of these exemptions for general lighting will be discontinued as assessments conducted by the Commission since 2016 concluded that safe, mercury-free alternatives are widely available for fluorescent lamps. The new rules aim to increase the protection of health and the environment form this hazardous substance, as well as boost innovation and promote cleaner products.
Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said:
Chemicals are part and parcel of our daily life, and they allow us to develop innovative solutions to green our economy. But we need to make sure that chemicals are produced and used in a way that does not damage human health and the environment. It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals, like mercury, in everyday consumer products, such as lamps.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:
Mercury-free lamps exist and should take over. With these new rules to phase out mercury, the EU shows determination to protect health and the environment and promote industrial innovation in achieving our circular economy and zero pollution ambitions. Nearly 3 tonnes of mercury - one of the most harmful chemicals ever – will never be used and more energy efficient non-toxic alternatives to billions of lamps will be gradually deployed.
On a case-by-case basis, transition periods of 12 and 18 months will be granted to allow economic operators to adjust to the new rules. For certain lamp categories, mainly for special purposes like in the industrial or medical sector, for which sufficient reliable mercury-free substitutes are not yet available, time-limited exemptions to use mercury are still granted, under the restrictive conditions set by the RoHS Directive.
Around 5000 million lamps – mostly compact and linear fluorescent – placed on the EU market contain mercury. Terminating mercury exemptions for fluorescent lamps will lead to a related reduction of around 2,800 kg of mercury. The associated risks linked to inappropriate disposal or use of mercury-based lamps by households will also be considerably diminished.
Market data shows that the phase-out of these lamps containing mercury would generate total net benefits over time, mainly due to energy savings, and lead to an overall reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. The switch to safer alternatives will be facilitated by the fact that, for many uses, mercury lamps can be replaced at the end of their lifetime without having to make changes to the installation. The phase-out would provide an additional push for innovation and for the further expansion of mercury-free lamp technologies, such as LED, that are already underway.
Following their adoption by the Commission, the 12 delegated acts will be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council. Both co-legislators have two months to either accept or reject the acts – a process which can be extended by a further two months, if needed. Based on the applicable legal provisions, the co-legislators do not have the possibility to amend the delegated acts. After final adoption, Member States will have six months to transpose them into their national legislation.
Mercury is a chemical element with neurotoxic effects, used in industrial processes and in a variety of products like lamps. Mercury released to the environment enters the food chain where it can bio-accumulate mainly in fish. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and immune system.
Primary mercury mining has stopped in 2003 and the exports of mercury and of certain mercury compounds from the EU have been banned since 15 March 2011.
The intentional use of mercury in the EU has been steadily decreasing over the past 15 years, thanks to the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive set of EU rules restricting its use in products. Apart from these intentional uses, there are unintentional emissions of mercury into the air from a number of activities using mercury containing fuels or raw materials. The most important is coal burning (for heating, cooking, power and steam generation and in industrial process plants).
The RoHS Directive restricts its use in all electronics placed on the European Union market. However, economic operators can apply for time-limited and application-specific exemptions from the substance restriction. A limited number of exemptions for the use of mercury in specific lamp categories, such as fluorescent lamps, are currently listed in the Directive, and applications for their renewal have been made.
For nearly twenty years, the EU RoHS Directive has become the global benchmark for reducing toxic substances in electronics, with similar laws introduced in approximately 50 countries outside the European Economic Area. Among others, the Directive triggers innovation including the search for viable substitutes for the limited cases where the use of the restricted substances is still necessary.
12 delegated acts adopted by the European Commission:
- RoHS mercury exemption 1 (a)-(e) – compact fluorescent lamps for general purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 1(f) - compact fluorescent lamps for special purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 1(g) - compact fluorescent lamps for general purposes with a lifetime equal/above 20 000
- RoHS mercury exemption 2(a) (1)-(5) - linear fluorescent lamps for general lighting purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 2(b)(3) - linear tri-band phosphor lamps
- RoHS mercury exemption 2(b)(4) - fluorescent lamps for other general lighting and special purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 3(a)-(c) - cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps for special purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 4 (a) - other low pressure discharge lamps
- RoHS mercury exemption 4(b) - high pressure sodium (vapour) lamps with improved colour rendering index
- RoHS mercury exemption 4(c) I-III - other high pressure sodium lamps for general lighting purposes
- RoHS mercury exemption 4 (e) - metal halide lamps
- RoHS mercury exemption 4 (f) - other discharge lamps for special purposes
- Publication date
- 16 December 2021
- Directorate-General for Environment