Light bulbs used to be simple. A bit of wire in a glass container, which got hot and glowed when you put electricity through it, like a miniature electric fire. They weren’t terribly reliable, and sometimes when they failed they plunged the house into darkness by taking a fuse with them, but they were a big improvement over oil lamps. They were also cheap, so their lack of longevity wasn’t much of a problem. You just threw the old one away and put in a new one. They weren’t even terribly polluting – just a bit of metal, a bit of ceramic, and some glass. Pretty much what the earth is made of.
However, progress is progress, so we had to move on, to the new energy saving light bulbs. Unlike the old tungsten filament bulbs, which you could see working, it was anyone’s guess how the new ones worked. They didn’t have a filament, and they didn’t get hot. They were also supposed to last much longer. Eleven years, according to the box from the one I changed yesterday. It replaced an identical energy saving light bulb, and I know for a fact that it hadn’t lasted eleven years, because that particular light fitting has only been over the kitchen table for the past three. I don’t even use it all that often, preferring to eat by candlelight. Never mind, the new bulbs are good for the rainforest, I expect, or giraffes, or Antarctica. They probably require more in the way of energy to make than the old ones did, and they do contain quite a lot of plastic besides the metal and glass, but that probably doesn’t matter. We can dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.The box, being made of cardboard, can be put out with the rest of the cardboard for doorstep recycling. The bulb has a helpful little symbol on the plastic, telling me not to put it in the wheelie bin. Being a Goody Two Shoes, I drive the eight miles to the recycling centre in my environmentally friendly Jag, and I throw the light bulb into whichever of the big metal bins the bloke on the kerbside directs me to. One of the blokes there used to have a Jag like mine, manual gearbox and all, when they first came out, so we sometimes have a bit of a chat about cars before I drive the eight miles home again. If I’m feeling particularly in charity with the environment, I might even make a detour to Morrison’s, to buy a couple more low energy light bulbs. They’re a lot more expensive than the old ones, but who cares, we’re saving the planet.