Tackling the green skills gap

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Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

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Dealing with Environmental Crime

published July 9, 2011

 In late 2008, the European Union, through a joint decision of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, adopted Directive 99/2008 “on the protection of the environment through criminal law”.

Member states had to implement this directive by not later than December 26, 2010. Malta, together with 11 other EU member states, did not comply. As a result, on June 16, the EU Commission issued a warning to all 12 states to comply within two months.

The EU directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law does not create new environment legislation. It aims to consolidate existing laws through harmonising penalties that should be inflicted as well as by ensuring that these penalties are really a deterrent.

Annex A to the directive lists EU legislation (some 70 directives and regulations) subject to this directive’s provisions. This is wide ranging and includes legislation regulating waste, GMOs, air quality, quality of water for human consumption, use of sewage sludge in agriculture, use and transportation of hazardous materials, protection of water from nitrates originating from agriculture, trade in endangered species and many others.

Within EU structures, the Maltese government opposed provisions of the proposed directive. So it is no surprise that this resistance is also reflected in the implementation process. This gives a new significance to the Maltese government’s declarations on the importance the environment has in its political agenda.

During the discussion stage in the EU structures, representatives of the Malta government expressed a view contrary to the harmonisation of sanctions primarily on the basis of the economic disparity across the EU member states.

The impact assessment produced by the EU on the proposed directive had emphasised that, in the EU, there are three areas that organised crime focuses on to the detriment of the environment. These are illicit trade in ozone depleting substances, illicit hazardous waste treatment and disposal and illicit trade in endangered wildlife species. A study entitled Organised Environmental Crime In EU Member States (2003) quoted by the EU impact assessment also states that 73 per cent of researched environmental crime cases involve corporations or corporate-like structures.

Organised environmental crime, which has a turnover of billions of euros in the EU, can have a devastating effect on the economy. There are various examples which we can draw upon. The case of the contaminated mozzarella in the Naples environs in March 2008 is one such example. Organised crime pocketed substantial landfill charges for the handling of toxic and hazardous waste, which was subsequently dumped in areas that were reserved for the grazing of buffalo. The resulting buffalo mozzarella was contaminated with dioxin. The impacts on the mozzarella industry were substantial.

Proof of the operations of the eco-Mafia has also surfaced some time ago when Francesco Fonti, a Mafia turncoat, took the witness stand against the Calabria Mafia. We do recall information given as to the sinking in the Mediterranean of about 42 ships laden with toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste. One of the said ships has been located and identified off the coast of Reggio Calabria.

This network of organised environmental crime is so vast that, at a time, it also dumped toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in Somalia. The warlords in the Somalia civil war were financed by the eco-Mafia. They supplied them with arms in return for their consent to the dumping of the toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste. Italian journalists (RaiTre) who had tracked down the shipments were shot and murdered in Mogadishu.

The dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea can have very serious impacts on Malta. It contaminates what’s left of fish stocks but also, depending on the location used for dumping, it can impact Malta’s potable water, 60 per cent of which originates from seawater processed by reverse osmosis plants.

Given these serious impacts I would have expected that the Maltese government would be at the forefront in implementing the directive on environmental crime in order to ensure that issues of cross-border organised environmental crime are adequately tackled. It is indeed very unfortunate that the tools which the EU provides so that Malta can protect its real interests are continuously ignored. One cannot help but ask why.

Law firm Hugo Lepage & Partners, in a comparative study commissioned by the EU Commission and entitled Study On Environmental Crime In The 27 Member States (2007), repeatedly identifies penalties for environmental crime in Malta as being at the lower end of the scale in the EU. The message that gets through is that environmental crime is treated lightly in Malta. Malta is not alone in this respect: it enjoys the company of a small number of other countries.

Environmental crime should be punished through penalties that are effective and proportionate to the environmental damage carried out or envisaged. It is in Malta’s interest that this is done expeditiously.

The Politics of Waste

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by Carmel Cacopardo

pubished September 26, 2009

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The Italian Mafia eco threat through the sinking in the Mediterranean of at least 42 ships laden with toxic and nuclear waste has far-reaching implications. The real impact, however, will not be clear for some time until all relative details are known.

Last week, the announcement was made of a settlement relative to the dispute that arose after the dumping in 2006 of some 500 tonnes of toxic waste around Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast. This settlement was denounced by both the association of the victims (31,000 residents of Abidjan) and by the international NGO Greenpeace that described it as an exploitation of African poverty.

Going through e-mails published by Greenpeace in the UK newspaper The Guardian last week, it is clear that at one point the toxic waste that ended up at Abidjan was to be processed at the fuel terminal of La Skhira, Tunisia. It appears however that the Tunisian management asked too many questions after examining a sample of the toxic waste such that other destinations were considered more appropriate!

Within this context it would be reasonable to consider what is being done locally with the toxic waste generated on these islands. I will limit myself to the discarding of electric and electronic equipment in Malta, a source of toxic waste. This is regulated by the provisions of the Waste (from) Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive of the EU. Known as the WEEE Directive, it has been transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 63 of 2007, yet, to date, it is not being implemented.

On the basis of the producer responsibility principle, producers of the electrical and electronic equipment placed on the Maltese market, as well as their representatives, are responsible in terms of the WEEE Directive for taking back obsolete/discarded equipment. In the long term this would mean that the design of the equipment is improved thereby facilitating repair, possible upgrading, reuse, disassembly and recycling and, consequently, cut the costs of disposal.

Taking back obsolete/discarded equipment involves a cost. Producers and their representatives are objecting because the government is forcing them to pay twice over for the waste they generate. Since 2004, on the basis of the polluter-pays principle, the government is already charging an eco contribution, which was specifically designed to pay for waste management costs. Subsequently, as a result of the transposition of the WEEE Directive, the responsibility for the managing of WEEE waste was hived off to the private sector. However, the government is still collecting the eco contribution while the private sector is expected to foot the bill for taking back obsolete/discarded electric and electronic equipment.

The government is collecting payment to make good for responsibilities it no longer shoulders. While it has a new role, as a regulator, through WasteServe it still insists on direct involvement. One would have expected this attitude from a government that advocates state intervention but not from one that is prolific on rhetoric relative to the pivotal role of the private sector.

The government’s attitude is impeding the private sector from developing a service, responsibility for which has been specifically assigned to it by EU legislation. This has been going on for the past 30 months and, as a result, most of the waste generated during this time by items listed in the WEEE Directive is unaccounted for.

The WEEE Directive is applicable to: household appliances (small and large), IT and telecommunications equipment, consumer equipment, lightning equipment, electrical and electronic tools, toys, leisure and sports equipment, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments and automatic dispensers.

Consumers are entitled to return to a supplier any obsolete/discarded item to which the WEEE Directive applies. The supplier, on behalf of the producer, will then ensure that the item is reconditioned, recycled or else stripped into its component parts, which can then be reused as raw materials or else appropriately disposed of. This obviously involves an expense that suppliers are entitled to recover by charging the consumer the real cost of waste management. Consumers are, however, already being charged an eco contribution, this being a waste management fee for costs that are not incurred anymore.

Late last year, the EU embarked on a revision of the WEEE Directive. Through this revision the EU aims to fine-tune the provisions of the directive such that it is more effective. In Malta, having not yet initiated implementation of the WEEE Directive, we are in the ridiculous situation of having a government that proclaims it is environment friendly but then whenever possible goes out of its way to torpedo the implementation of the environmental acqui.

It is the importers who are now directly responsible for implementing the provisions of the WEEE Directive. However, this does not exonerate the government whose double charging for WEEE waste is clearly the sole reason for WEEE’s non-implementation in Malta.

Holding Business to Account

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published on April 11, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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On September 13, 1970, in the New York Times magazine, economist Milton Friedman said that the sole purpose of business was to generate profits for shareholders. The business of business, he argued, is business.

Forty years on some still think on the same lines: that shouldering environmental and social impacts generated by business is not the business of business. They insist that, if pressed to address its impacts, business would consider relocating, seeking countries where legislation relative to environmental and social protection is minimal or inexistent.

By publishing its Corporate Social Responsibility report for 2006-08, Vodafone Malta is making a very powerful statement: modern business thinks otherwise. It considers that the business of business is much wider than business. In its second CSR report, Vodafone outlines its initiatives in managing its corporate risks and responsibilities in greater detail than it did two years ago.

CSR signifies a commitment that business is carried out in a responsible manner. Tree-planting and sponsorship of worthy causes, though laudable, are marginal to CSR!

Vodafone’s statements on the management of hazardous waste relating to mobile phones are welcome as are its declarations on its reduced carbon footprint.

The listing of ethical purchasing criteria make excellent reading although the manner in which these have been applied could have been substantially more informative. In particular, it would have been appropriate if stakeholders were informed whether there were any suppliers who fell foul of the said criteria during the reporting period. The adopted criteria use the available guidelines, standards and tools that have been drawn up globally to facilitate sustainability benchmarking and reporting. They are largely modelled on the social accountability standard SA8000, full compliance to which should lead to the ethical sourcing of goods and services. This standard has also been used by others, among which Avon Products Inc., The Body Shop, Reebok International, Toys ‘R’ Us and The Ethical Trading Initiative.

On a different note, reporting on the radiation emission levels of its base stations and the identification of the standards to which it conforms makes Vodafone’s second CSR report an adequate reporting tool. This is an issue, however, which requires more analysis and discussion.

In line with global CSR reporting standards, Vodafone discloses of being in breach of consumer legislation on one occasion during the reporting period relative to comparative advertising. Such disclosure, though not yet an everyday occurrence in these islands, is an essential element of CSR reporting.

Vodafone’s third CSR report should move a further step forward: Its statements should be subject to an audit and be independently verified as being correct. CSR reporting is as important as financial reporting and should be subject to the same level of assurance.

Vodafone has made an important contribution to CSR reporting in Malta.

Together with BOV, it has made the first strides locally in this previously unexplored domain. It is hoped that the competition in the communications industry in Malta would make equally valid contributions. While Go plc could substantially improve on its 61-word paragraph devoted to CSR in its 2007 annual report (the latest available), stakeholders await Melita’s first utterances on the matter.

Although some tend to equate CSR with corporate philanthropy, this is just one tiny element of CSR. To make sense, corporate philanthropy must be founded on and be the result of a sound CSR. A company can sponsor environmental initiatives but, if its own environmental policy is blurred, the sponsorships dished out could only be considered as an exercise in green-washing. When deciding on sponsorships, business should be consistent with the manner it carries out its day-to-day operations. Corporate philanthropy would thus be much more than another cheap marketing ploy.

Vodafone Malta, through its CSR report is laying its cards on the table. As a result, its corporate philanthropy can be viewed in context. It would be quite a feat if, for example, the banking sector in Malta could follow suit by determining and applying environmental criteria in the advancing of finance to the building industry and, subsequently, informing stakeholders of its achievements through CSR reporting! With just one stroke of a pen, the banking sector in Malta can prevent substantial damage to both the natural and the historical environmental.

The adoption of CSR by business signifies the acceptance of the fact that its shadow is much wider than its shareholders.

Business is responsible towards its shareholders but it is accountable towards its stakeholders: employees, customers, consumers, trade unions, environmental groups and also future generations. It is with this wider stakeholder group that business must develop a dialogue. Such a dialogue must be based on trust and, consequently, it must be both transparent and leading to genuine accountability. It is not just governments that need to be accountable! CSR reporting is a tool that can be of considerable assistance in achieving this purpose.

Waste update : back to the drawing board

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by Carmel Cacopardo

published on Saturday February 28, 2009

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The Solid Waste Management Strategy update published recently, identifies a zero waste scenario as a long-term aim. It refers to a number of studies commissioned and proceeds to a selective use of conclusions from the said studies, which are still under wraps.

A Situation Audit of the strategy was carried out in 2005. Yet, the only conclusion that has found its way into the proposed update is a statement on the practical non-existence of the interministerial committee set up to coordinate the strategy’s implementation across government. The full Situation Audit should see the light of day. The public has the right to be informed as to the manner in which targets were attained and the reasons as to why others were missed.

The update is incomplete; it postpones updating the strategy on hazardous waste, promising instead a Topic Paper in the future. The management of hazardous waste includes the implementation of the WEEE Directive (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment), which is way behind schedule.

Producers and their representatives in terms of the WEEE Directive assume full responsibility for the waste generated by their products. Yet, the government, through the simultaneous application of the eco-contribution and the WEEE Directive, has placed them in a situation where they have to pay twice for the handling of electric and electronic waste: The payment of an eco-contribution and shouldering producer responsibility in terms of EU legislation. The result is that while, on paper, the WEEE Directive in Malta has been transposed, in practice its implementation is being obstructed. It is an area of responsibility that EU legislation assigns specifically to the private sector, yet the government is reluctant to lose a substantial chunk of eco-contribution revenues and is consequently applying the brakes.

The regulation of scrap yards does not feature in the update. They are required in order to recycle scrap metal. However, they should operate within a regulatory framework, in particular in conformity to the WEEE and the ELV (End of Life Vehicle) Directives. Recently, it was reported that, during testimony submitted in a planning appeal, concerning the enforcement order relative to the Ta’ Brolli scrap yard in Birzebbuga, it was revealed that part of its business originates from the custom of government departments and corporations!

Some scrap yards process scrap from disused refrigerators! Processing? They just crush them, as a result releasing refrigeration gases to air. These gases are CFCs (chloroflorocarbons), contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer. In a regulated environment in terms of the WEEE Directive, processing disused refrigerators for waste would include the careful collection of the CFCs as a first step. Instead, some Maltese scrap yards are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer in contrast to the provisions of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which Malta has bound itself to observe and implement.

The proposal for an updated strategy encourages a policy favouring waste incineration. It proposes that the use of bio-digestion to convert waste to energy is complemented by a policy favouring incineration. Specifically, it proposes a waste to energy incinerator to be sited at Delimara next to the power station. This could also mean that on waste recovery sites (currently in operation or projected) the two technologies could co-exist.

Incineration is undoubtedly a waste management tool. In my opinion, it should however, only be used as the last option.

Relying on incineration to produce electricity would, on the plus side, reduce required landfill space and the fuel bill. It would still, however, contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and, hence, cannot be described as a source of clean energy. On the minus side, it negates the need to reduce waste generation and produces other possibly toxic emissions, which would vary dependent on the composition of the RDF (refuse derived fuel).

The regulation of these emissions is normally established through a permit issued by Mepa in terms of the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control. The acceptability or otherwise of an incineration facility even as a tool of the last resort would in my view result from two points: The quality of emissions control imposed by Mepa through the conditions established in the IPPC permit, and the enforceability of these conditions.

If the manner in which the Marsa incinerator has operated in the past months is a reliable indicator on the workings of Mepa and Wasteserv, this is sufficient on its own to discard the incinerator option even as a tool of last resort.

These are just a few of the points indicating reasons as to why the proposed waste strategy update needs to go back to the drawing board. Together with the fact that a Strategic Environmental Assessment has not to date been carried out, this is clear evidence of its poor quality. Such a document cannot lead to a fruitful public discussion.

Il-5 Bozoz ta’ Lawrence Gonzi

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Kif tħabbar fil-budget f’data mhux il-bogħod ser nirċievu voucher li jintitolana nġibu 5 bozoz energy savers mill-ħanut tal-għażla tagħna.

Dawn il-bozoz jużaw bejn 66% u 80% inqas enerġija mill-bozoz li aħna mdorrijin nużaw u jibqgħu tajbin għall-użu għall-perjodu ferm itwal.

 

 Issa li l-Gvern beda il-kampanja favur dawn il-bozoz li jaħlu anqas hemm ħtieġa ukoll ta’ kampanja edukattiva dwar :

a)       kemm hu utli li nagħmlu użu minn dawn il-bozoz biex ma naħlux elettriku,

b)       kif niddisponu mill-bozoz li jkunu spiċċaw,

c)       x’għandna nagħmlu meta tinkiser bozza.

 

L-utilita’ tal-użu ta’ dawn il-bozoz m’għandix dubju li jifhimha kważi kulħadd. Mhux ċajta li tifranka sa 80% tal-elettriku li normalment tuża’ biex iddawwal id-dar.

Xi ħaga importanti li s’issa għadu ma ntqal xejn dwarha f’Malta hu kif niddisponu minn dawn il-bozoz energy savers meta jintemm l-użu tagħhom. Dawn il-bozoz fihom ammont żgħir ħafna ta’ merkurju, sustanza perikoluża li insibuha ukoll f’ammont ferm ikbar fit-termometri u l-barometri li għandna minnhom fi djarna. Meta bozza energy saver tispiċċa allura ma tistax tintrema mal-iskart normali u dan biex jiġi kkontrollat it-tixrid tal-merkurju li hu meqjus bħala hazardous waste. Jiena naħseb li l-WasteServe, l-aġenzija tal-Gvern li tieħu ħsieb l-immaniġjar tal-iskart għandha teduka u tinforma lill-pubbliku ta’ x’għandu jsir f’dan ir-rigward.

 

Meta tinkiser bozza m’għandniex nallarmaw ruħna. Kif jgħidu l-esperti f’pajjiżi oħra huwa importanti li meta tinkiser bozza nagħtu ċans lit-trab tal-merkurju joqgħod, jiġifieri li ma jkunx għadu fl-arja u b’hekk ma nassorbuhx man-nifs. Id-Dipartiment tal-Ambjent Ingliż fil-fatt jirrakkomanda li l-kamra li fiha tinkiser bozza energy saver għandha tkun evakwata għal 15-il minuta. Nistenna li l-awtoritajiet f’Malta jispjegaw b’mod iżjed ċar x’għandu jsir

Issa li l-Gvern iddeċieda nittama li jibda kampanja pubbliċitarja ta’ tagħrif biex b’hekk kulħadd ikun infurmat u kulħadd ikun jaf kemm jaqbel nużaw il-bozoz energy savers, kif niddisponu minnhom u x’għandu jsir jekk tinkiser bozza.

 

Ara ukoll dawn il-links :  BBC        u      DEFRA     

 

 

Dik il-bozza

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Fil-kampanja elettorali li għada kif intemmet, kemm il-manifest elettorali tal-Alternattiva Demokratika kif ukoll dak tal-Partit Nazzjonalista jitkellmu dwar l-għoti ta’ bozoz energy saving b’xejn.

Issa dawn il-proposti huma frott ta’ pika tajba. Huma motivati mill-idea li n-nies jiġu mħajra ma jaħlux. Għax il-bozza li ma taħlix tiswa iktar, għall-bidu biex jitħajru jew biex ma jitgerrxux nies saret il-proposta tal-għotja ta’ bozoz b’xejn. Hi proposta li saret ukoll u ġiet attwata f’pajjiżi oħra. Miżura żgħira li ftit tinvolvi spejjes imma kien hemm ukoll min ipprova jirredikolha.

Tfisser li taħli inqas elettriku (inqas surcharge) u allura tnaqqas l-impatti ambjentali li jeffettwaw lil kulħadd. Teffettwa lil butek, lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta u lis-saħħa ta’ kulħadd minħabba inqas emissjonijiet !

Imma hemm affarijiet oħra li m’huwiex ċar jekk humiex qed jiġu meqjusa bir-reqqa neċessarja. Il-bozoz energy savers fihom ammont żgħir ta’ merkurju. X’passi qed jittieħdu biex dawn il-bozoz, meta jagħmlu żmienhom ma jispiċċawx mal-bqija tal-iskart ? Jekk bozza tinkiser nafu li t-trab tal-merkurju li fihom jista’ jkun ta’ periklu ? Tajjeb li jkun hemm min jispjega ftit.

Għal iktar informazzjoni ara ftit dan l-artiklu ‘Shining a light on hazards of fluorescent bulbs