Appliance Environmental Issues
- Created: Monday, 23 October 2006 13:41
- Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2016 00:06
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Appliance Energy Labelling
Over the years we've spoken to many an environmentalist who were, for the most part, normal consumers with a strong interest and desire to minimise their footprint of environmental damage caused. Of course this includes the obvious things, like being strong advocates of recycling (even if some do not practise what they preach) and, more so of buying products that are said to be better for the environment.
But whilst these may be noble goals and buying the "green" product may well appease your conscience when it comes to appliances and their use this can actually be counter-productive to the actual goal.
We've already extensively written about the EU Energy Labels and, frankly, we find them to be misleading and confusing for most people as they tell a little of the story, but not the whole story.
You see the label takes no account of the actual appliance's performance beyond how well it washed on a sixty degree centigrade cotton wash in the case of a washing machine or washer dryer.
One program, that's it.
They test with six stains which are not (to my mind and many others) indicative of real world use and, that's it. The load figures given are just stupidly high, to cram that much laundry in would be farcical, the machine wouldn't wash and the manufacturer would tell you that you were overloading.
So why give out this information? Frankly, we don't know. Our amusing suspicion is that the politicians in Brussels had nothing better to do that day.
But you can find out a lot more by reading the full explanation that we wrote in 2005 from this link which explains why these can lead to poor wash results and a lot of needless waste.
What You're Not Being Told
These labels don't tell you much of anything apart from that the machine meets a particular standard on a single program or setting, not very informative in other words.
So what other information do people have to base the choice of what washing machine, dishwasher or fridge freezer to buy then?
Not a lot if the truth be told.
There's no information beyond the brand name and energy label and, of course, the brand name doesn't go for much these days in a lot of cases as you're all too often not buying what you think you are. Just look at Hotpoint and Hoover as two typical examples, both are assumed by a lot of people to be British when in fact they are not, far from it, they are both owned by Italian companies. You can find out a lot more about this particular illusion in our manufacturer section.
How To Sell More Appliances
There's only so many appliances sold in the UK every single year, the market for washing machines for example hovers around about the 1.4 million sales per annum mark in the UK, although that has said to have risen to over 2 million by 2015. Of course it fluctuates like any figure of that nature, but the general figure is about that.
So, in such a market how do you increase sales?
In short there's only really two ways to do it, you either buy the competition and increase your size that way or you shorten the lifespan of the products.
The only other, third way, is through innovative products but we'll discount that as there's nothing even on the horizon that is set to revolutionise the industry. Of course there's the cost cutting option, but we think that all the manufacturers have hit bottom there pretty much.
The industry has consolidated in large part, yet there are more brand names out there that there has ever been, how is that possible?
It is possible because the factories demand volumes to stay open, drop the volume and the factory becomes unsustainable and therefore there are price drops, in many cases to almost cost price, sometimes less, just to keep the factories open. Of course for many small manufacturers that actually have production facilities this means that they are open to attack from the big boys for takeover as they are cash-strapped.
That is exactly what has happened.
But, when that stops working or you've eaten up as many competitors as you can what next?
Simple, shorten the lifespan, but how?
This is where we come into the picture as we see this happening on a daily basis, you make it uneconomical to repair the appliances by hiking up the cost of spares. Now we could go on all day with examples of this, there's loads on this website if you have a look about and you won't have to look too hard to find them either. Looking at the chart to the right shows the dramatic effect that this is having on the amount of machines being replaced prematurely.
This is just great for the manufacturers they either sell more new machines or they make ridiculous profits on spare parts, including when the machine is insured. So you will often end up replacing the machine earlier as that becomes the more economically viable course to take.
They can't lose, you do.
Of course the energy label and the salesperson in the shop don't tell you this.
The impact of this is, to say the least, profound.
There is a company called GfK that monitors all sorts of sales data and, in a report that was published in the trade magazine ERT in June of 2006, it was evident that between 2001 and the end of 2005, a mere four years, that 17% more machines were being scrapped under ten years old. This is shown graphically in the chart above.
That equates to somewhere in the order of an extra 240,000 washing machines alone going to landfill early every single year. Worryingly the biggest increases are seen in washing machines that are under seven years old, with a marked increase in those under five years old.
In that period the average age of a washing machine has dropped from 13.8 years old to 8.8 years.
These are extremely worrying trends in many ways for the environment.
But the figures are massively worse than that when you consider that this is only washing machines. Not washer dryers, not tumble dryers, not dishwashers, not fridge freezers, not cookers or in fact, not any other appliance except washing machines.
Shocking, isn't it?
We would argue that this is the result of a deliberate policy over which there is no control and, it would appear, that there is little interest in by government. Which begs the question, are governments interested in the environment or just interested in being seen to be interested in it?
Rather than tackling the cause of the problem we appear to be merely trying to deal with the aftermath of it with the likes of the WEEE Directive.
More and more machines off to landfill simply due to expensive spare parts
All this means that very often people buying a new washing machine, dishwasher or almost any other domestic appliance are being misled to an extent, but we'd say that it was more down to just not having the information that you need to actually make an informed choice. The problem is that making the incorrect one leads to a far higher environmental footprint of damage than the right one.
That aside, think of the cost of replacement, both financial but also the environmental cost.
Currently there are few facilities that actually recycle any appliances properly, just think back to the fridge mountains of a few years ago where there were no facilities to safely dispose of them and you get an idea of the current situation. It is not inconceivable that we will end up with appliance mountains very soon.
Due to the cost of disposal and, the fact that nobody wants to know about the problem or (especially) wants to pay for it, don't be surprised if you see the odd appliance left abandoned in a lay-by on the road. Or indeed anywhere else there's enough space to just dump the old appliance.
Then there's the cost, in environmental terms, of the manufacturing of the new appliance from raw materials and, with many appliances produced now in China and former Eastern Block states where the emissions legislation is, at best lax if enforced at all, there is a direct impact on our environment.
In effect there's two hits to our environment with every single machine that is scrapped, not one.
This makes current policies look very ineffective as they only deal with the waste disposal issue when the appliances reach the end of their life (whether deliberate or not) and entirely fail to address the core issues.
All these factors combine leaving massive dirty footprints across many areas of our environment, bot directly and indirectly.
The conclusion has to be that people in the UK that are buying appliances are being hoodwinked. You don't know what you're buying, you don't know how it will perform, you don't know how much it will cost when it breaks and you don't know how environmentally friendly the product really is or even how long it is liable to last.
In short, you don't have any information really to make an informed decision on what machine to buy. And this suits many people in the industry just fine.
We have tried to inform people better, we have the manufacturers section that explains who's who and does what and we have a massive amount of other articles which explains all this as much as we can. Hopefully you will explore these articles and learn a little more before it's too late.
But if you feel that you've been conned we shouldn't worry, you're not alone and you may very well have been.