Microwave usage across the EU alone emits as much carbon dioxide as nearly seven million cars according to a new study by The University of Manchester.
Researchers at the University have carried out the first ever comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of microwaves, considering their whole life cycle, from ‘cradle to grave’.
The study found that Microwaves emit 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in the EU. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 6.8 million cars.
Microwaves across the EU consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour (TWh) of electricity every year. This is equivalent to the annual electricity generated by three large gas power plants.
The Scientists say that efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently.
Microwaves account for the largest percentage of sales of all type of ovens in the European Union (EU), with numbers set to reach nearly 135 million by 2020. Despite this, the scale of their impacts on the environment was not known until now.
The study used life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the impacts of microwaves, taking into account their manufacture, use and end-of-life waste management.
Altogether, the research team investigated 12 different environmental factors, including climate change, depletion of natural resources and ecological toxicity. They found, for example, that the microwaves used across the EU emit 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This is equivalent to the annual emission of 6.8 million cars.
The research shows that the main environmental ‘hotspots’ are materials used to manufacture the microwaves, the manufacturing process and end-of-life waste management. For example, the manufacturing process alone contributes more than 20% to depletion of natural resources and to climate change.
The study found that, on average, an individual microwave uses 573 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity over its lifetime of eight years. That is equivalent to the electricity consumed by a 7 watt LED light bulb, left on continuously for almost nine years. This is despite the fact that microwaves spend more than 90% of their lifetime being idle, in the stand-by mode.
Dr Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, from the School of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science, explains: ‘Rapid technological developments and falling prices are driving the purchase of electrical and electronic appliances in Europe.
‘Consumers now tend to buy new appliances before the existing ones reach the end of their useful life as electronic goods have become fashionable and ‘status’ items.
‘As a result, discarded electrical equipment, such as microwaves, is one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide.’