Green home appliances: a buyer’s guide

Green appliances: a buyer’s guide
Thinking of trading in your old fridge? We’ve got the lowdown on how to get hold of electricals that are genuinely green

Every year, eight million washing machines, cookers and fridges are replaced in the UK. On top of that, the UN Environment Programme [UNEP] estimates that up to 50 million tonnes of electrical waste is generated worldwide each year. It’s not all bad news - the EU requires all local authorities to provide collection and recycling facilities for household goods, which diverts a decent amount away from landfill - but the manufacturing and energy efficiency of these products remains a huge environmental issue. As increasing numbers of consumers voice their concerns, manufacturers have been forced to respond and are seeking ways to improve the performance of their products. The introduction of the EU energy efficiency rating has speeded up this process and has had the unintended happy effect of sparking healthy competition between companies as to who can make the most eco-friendly appliance.

As well as energy efficiency, manufacturing of household goods remains a contentious issue as a toxic mix of hazardous metals, plastics and chemicals are used to create them and worse, have the potential to leak into the land and contaminate soil and water if not disposed of properly. Furthermore, the mining of some of the essential ingredients for our iPods and laptops is fuelling wars in other countries, with the fight for cassiterite deposits in the Democratic Republic of Congo proving particularly intractable. Whether you’re buying a new washing machine, laptop or fridge, it’s worth investing in something durable and ethical that you know is going to last. While no appliance can be truly green, some options are greener than others.

Washing machines
Washing machines have come a long way in the last 10 years. As well as offering a wider choice of shorter wash cycles and quieter function, most modern machines now weigh the laundry, adjusting the amount of water, time and electricity needed to suit that particular load. Many leading brands offer eco-friendly options including the Hoover Dynamic 10+ Steam (from £515), which has a 10kg drum so you can do one large wash and an energy rating of A++, and the LG F1479FDS6 (from £559) which comes with an A+++ energy rating and a steam generator that eliminates 99 per cent of allergens including dust mites. The Samsung Eco Bubble (from £350) is arguably the greenest of the bunch and not only has an A++ energy rating but washes clothes at 15 degrees via the innovative use of bubble technology, which dissolves the detergent into the water and then injects air, producing a rich soapy foam that gets to work 40 times faster and reduces the need for hot water.

According to DEFRA, the British drink an incredible 229 million cups of tea and coffee every day and most of us boil more water than we need. If we were to only boil the amount we needed, we could save on average 90 seconds worth of power, which on a global scale, is a lot of electricity.  The Electronic Eco 3 Kettle (£48) does the job for you and comes with a dual compartment one of which you fill up, while programming the other based on the number of cups you need, which helps cut down on water, electricity and money on your bills. Other eco-kettles on the market include the Kenwood Energy Sense Kettle (£45) which has an improved element and is see through, while the Tefal Quick Cup (£62) produces hot filtered water at the touch of button and according to Tefal, uses 65 per cent less energy.

Fridges account for 17 per cent of all domestic energy consumption in Britain and are the hardest working appliances in the kitchen. However, energy efficiency has dramatically improved and most fridges are around 30 per cent more efficient than they were 30 years ago. One problem that still lingers is the use of hydrofluorocarbons [HFCs] as a refrigeration coolant. Like banned chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs], HFCs are greenhouse gases, so look instead for one of the new generation fridges that uses hydrocarbons (such as R600a) as a refrigerant. Bosch and Miele make CFC/HFC free fridges, as do Siemens who also use recyclable plastics in the manufacture of their models. Danish Company Vestfrost have produced the ‘ECO-Fridge’ (also known as ‘ConServ’) which is greenhouse gas free, made from recycled materials and highly energy efficient, earning them the acclaimed ‘eco-label’ which the EU awards to companies whose products are manufactured with minimal environmental damage. You can keep your fridge’s energy consumption to a minimum by insulating it around the sides and regularly cleaning the coils at the back.

iPods and MP3 players
At first glance, the MP3 player seems the obvious green choice for listening to music. It eliminates the need for a bulky home stereo system and takes the hundreds of plastic coated, lacquered and non-recyclable CDs out of the equation. However, MP3s are still subject to a questionable manufacturing process and contain arsenic, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), mercury, phthalates and PVC. Plus, you still need a computer or laptop in order to download tracks. Shockingly, MP3s, like all new gadgets, come with ‘built in obsolescence’ (they are made to break down after a relatively short lifespan), a process that has come under fire from environmental groups. But given the risk of losing millions of dollars in sales, most companies don’t want to build a product that lasts. In response to criticism about the manufacture of iPods, Apple have cleaned up their act and now claim ‘from the glass, plastic, and metal in our products to the paper and ink in our packaging, our goal is to continue leading the industry in reducing or eliminating environmentally harmful substances.’

Televisions are an eco-nightmare and most environmentalists would agree that the greenest thing to do is to hang on to your old one. An incredible amount of energy goes into producing them and they are made from a toxic cocktail of lead, mercury and cadmium. Admittedly, the last decade has seen advances in energy efficiency, especially in terms of LCD screens that use only one fluorescent backlight to create the images and consume half the amount of energy than a conventional cathode-ray tube (CRT). Plasma screens however, rank bottom of the list because each individual pixel has to be lit through an energy consuming process of ionising gas. Some companies are making improvements however, such as Sony whose Bravia series uses 40 per cent less energy than other LCDs and include a sensor that turns the screen off when no motion is detected nearby. Meanwhile, Samsung’s LED range is now 50 per cent more energy efficient than it was three years ago. If you’re thinking of trading in your old analogue set to meet the advent of digital television then don’t: it’s a myth. Most analogue television sets can receive digital signals through a simple converter box that you can get for around £20. More information about converter boxes can be found on the Digital TV Transition website.   

Like televisions, computers are a hazardous mix of heavy metals and chemicals requiring five times their weight in fossil fuels to be produced. Furthermore, controversy still surrounds the way in which computers are disposed of, with most of our e-junk being sent to developing countries for ‘recycling’ where they often end up as mountains of toxic waste slowly rotting and contaminating the surrounding land. When choosing a new computer, smaller devices such as Netbooks generally use less energy. The Samsung N120 Ultralight is an eco-friendly machine that is energy efficient, recyclable, long lasting and comes with an environmentally responsible manufacturing history. The Viglen Dossier L60 Notebook also scores well on the eco-credentials front and according to Ethical Consumer magazine, uses few hazardous substances during manufacture.  UK based company, Go Green PC, manufactures a whole range of eco-computers and are well worth a look.

There are currently over five billion mobile phones in use around the world and according to Wireless Intelligence, a staggering 10 billion have been sold since 1994. Only 10 per cent of phones are currently recycled which is frightening given the mercury, lead, arsenic and brominated flame retardants they contain. They also require frequent charging which drains energy with smartphones among the worst offenders. In 2008, Samsung launched two eco-friendly devices: the SGH-W510, which is made from corn starch with an eco-friendly metal finish and the F268, which is free of brominated flame retardants and PVC. 2011 saw the release of the Replenish, which has an outer casing made from 34.6 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic while 82 per cent of the rest of the device is made from recyclable materials. Other mobiles that come with eco-credentials include the Nokia C6-01 and Sony Ericsson Experia X8.


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