Quantcast
Energy

Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars?

According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.


David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, pointed out to the Guardian that the emissions from microwaves are "dwarfed by those from cars."

"There are around 30 million cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU," he added. "Latest data show that passenger cars in the UK emitted 69m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This is 10 times the amount this new microwave oven study estimates for annual emissions for all the microwave ovens in the whole of the EU."

Microwaves are actually more eco-friendly than conventional ovens. Even a press write up on the new study stated, "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."

TreeHugger's Lloyd Alter put it blankly, "That, right there, is the silliest comparison ever, and says it all—an oven uses in eight years what an LED bulb uses in nine, or 1.14 times the power consumption of an LED bulb. This is killing the planet?"

"Almost everything we do uses power, and you can multiply it out and find that when you have a lot of people, it uses a lot of power. Using this logic, I expect that my electric toothbrush is killing the planet," Alter quipped.

The bigger picture, and perhaps the point of the study, is the environmental footprint of our consumeristic, throwaway culture. A microwave's life cycle, aka from "cradle to grave," has decreased from around 10 to 15 years in the late 90s to between six to eight years today, the press release said.

Additionally, many modern day conveniences—from vacuum cleaners to hair dryers and, yes, our beloved microwave—should be designed and used more efficiently.

Importantly, as the authors of the study noted, our everyday appliances run off of polluting fossil fuels, rather than, say, renewables.

"Electricity consumption has the biggest impact," the study's lead author Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, a research associate at the University of Manchester, told AFP. "This is because of the fuels used to generate the electricity."

The AFP reported that coal and gas account for about 70 percent of electricity generation around the world. In the EU, that figure is about 40 percent.

The researchers suggested that manufacturers and individual action can do a lot to reduce the environmental impact of our kitchen gadgets.

"On average, kettles boil 50 percent more water than people need," Gallego-Schmid said. "There are about 144 million kettles in the European Union. The environmental impacts—and the margin for improvement—is huge."

Similarly, most people operate microwaves longer than needed to heat or cook food, he added.

The study is the first to analyze the environmental impacts of microwaves by considering their whole life cycle.

Microwaves were likely considered for the study because they account for the largest percentage of sales of all type of ovens in the European Union, with numbers set to reach nearly 135 million by 2020.

"It is electricity consumption by microwaves that has the biggest impact on the environment," the authors said.

Gallego-Schmid also told the Guardian, "The aim of our study was not to compare microwaves to other cooking appliances but to look at the environmental impacts of microwaves as ubiquitous devices in households in Europe and draw attention to the need to make their design, use and end-of-life waste management more efficient."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Energy
Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, which was impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, could be harmed again if expanded offshore drilling plans go through. National Park Service

Trump’s Offshore Drilling Plan Puts 68 National Parks at Risk

Sixty-eight National Parks along the coastal U.S. could be in danger from devastating oil spills if President Donald Trump's plan to open 90 percent of coastal waters to offshore oil drilling goes through, a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association found.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
E. coli. The World Health Organizations says antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today." U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Climate Change Could Supercharge Threat of Antibiotic Resistance: Study

By Andrea Germano

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously sounded alarms about the growing issue of antibiotic resistance—a problem already linked to overprescribing of antibiotics and industrial farming practices. Now, new research shows a link between warmer temperatures and antibiotic resistance, suggesting it could be a greater threat than previously thought on our ever-warming planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Powerwall residential battery with solar panels. Tesla

Tesla's Massive Virtual Power Plant in South Australia Roars Back to Life

Tesla's plans to build the world's largest virtual power plant in South Australia will proceed after all.

The $800 million (US $634 million) project—struck in February by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill—involves installing solar panels and batteries on 50,000 homes to function as an interconnected power plant.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
A French lavender farmer is part of the group suing the EU for more ambitious emissions targets, saying climate change threatens his crop. Iamhao / CC BY-SA 3.0

10 Families Bring First Ever 'People’s Climate Case' Against the EU

Ten families from Fiji, Kenya and countries across Europe who are already suffering the effects of climate change filed a case against the EU Wednesday in a bid to force the body to increase its commitments under the Paris agreement, AFP reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans

Swimmer Plans to Cross Pacific to Highlight Plastic Pollution

Ben Lecomte, the first man to swim across the Atlantic in 1998, will attempt another grueling, history-making ocean crossing.

On Tuesday, the 50-year-old Frenchman and his crew will set out from Tokyo for a 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific, Reuters reported. If all goes as planned, Lecomte will arrive in San Francisco six to eight months later.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Tesco supermarket near Ashford Hospital in West Bedfont, England. Maxwell Hamilton / CC BY 2.0

UK's Largest Grocer Takes on Food and Plastic Waste

It's been a green week for Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket.

First, the chain said it would remove "Best before" labels from around 70 pre-packaged fruits and vegetables in an attempt to stop customers from discarding still-edible food, BBC News reported Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
"While roads around our plant are impassable, our ride-out crew has two boats that could be used to carry the crew out of the site," said a spokesperson for Arkema on Aug. 29, 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. EPA

Chemical Industry Lacks Preparation for Extreme Weather, Investigation Finds

A Houston chemical plant company did not properly prepare for hurricane season, resulting in a toxic accident during Hurricane Harvey last year, federal regulators have found.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Thursday released an extensive investigation into the flooding-induced chemical fires at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, finding that while the company's insurers flagged the high potential for flooding a year before Harvey, plant employees were unaware of the risk.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Calgary Reviews / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

McDonald's Shareholders Vote to Keep Distributing Plastic Straws

McDonald's shareholders rejected a proposal to take the first step in banning plastic straws at its 36,000 outlets worldwide.

The proposal, published in an SEC filing in April, would have required the fast food giant to prepare a report on the business risks of using plastic straws, and the company's efforts to develop and implement more sustainable alternatives in its restaurants.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!