You only have to look around your home to see that technology plays an increasingly integral role in the way we live today. As technology advances, more and more appliances, gadgets, and gizmos are finding their way into our kitchens, bedrooms, and living areas.
While household appliances offer a raft of benefits, they’re not always as saintly as they seem. It’s common for us to use appliances to save time and effort and improve results, but sometimes, the technology we employ carries risks: we should all consider the negative impacts of household appliance most notably for the environment but sometimes even our personal health.
With more and more of us keen to step up our efforts to embrace greener living and lead happier, healthier lifestyles, perhaps you might like to consider the following negative impacts of using popular household appliances?
The environmental consequences of household appliances
Many of us switch on the kettle or pop a piece of bread in the toaster without really thinking about the potential consequences of running household appliances. We have become accustomed to a way of living, which involves using technology on a daily basis. While household appliances make life easier for us, it is worth thinking about the environmental impact of the arsenal of technical wizardry you may have at home.
As with most products we purchase, the main environmental impacts are in manufacture and disposal, so we’ll have a look at these two areas first and then consider usage.
The factories that manufacture your household appliances negatively impact the environment in many ways.
Most use considerable amounts of oil, gas or coal – fossil fuels which when burnt to produce energy create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
They invariably use high volumes of water which is also becoming an environmental and health concern: the Environment Agency suggests that within 25 years the UK will not have enough water to meet demands.
And the used water must go somewhere…….
There are strict guidelines in the UK regarding discharge of waste water, which may be toxic, into water sources. Used water should be treated to remove any harmful substances or compounds, but nonetheless industrial and manufacturing wastes remain the biggest casual agents of water pollution.
Does your household appliance have all the latest electronic gizmos? Did you know that precious and rare earth metals such as gold, palladium and cobalt are used in the manufacture of electronic equipment? These products are mined and as they become less readily available, drilling for supplies gets deeper and deeper. Consider the environmental impact of that process and the impacts on the geology and the landscapeaesthetics of the areas involved.
Factories vary a great deal. Standards are generally much higher in the UK, so where is your appliance and all the component parts manufactured? Some factories may be using renewable energy and have effective systems in place to minimise their environmental impacts. But are they also considering the environmental practices of other companies in their supply chain? Where do those precious metals come from? What are the environmental impacts of the drilling?
The bottom line is that however much the company that makes your household appliance is committed to good environmental standards, your shiny new purchase has a fairly high environmental footprint even before you start using it.
So, before you buy something new, ask yourself if you really do need to. If it isn’t working, could it be repaired? Or perhaps even consider purchasing second-hand appliances.
And if you really do need to buy new, checkout the eco-credentials of the manufacturer and ensure you buy an item with the highest energy-efficient rating you can. And ask yourself if all the snazzy electronic gizmos are really necessary.
In most cases, if you are purchasing a new product you have an old one to get rid of. Do please think very carefully about the most appropriate ways to deal with that process.
Some local authorities collect small electrical items as part of their regular household waste collections. These should be put out separately and never be put in your normal waste bags or bins..
Most councils will also collect larger household appliances by request, sometimes for a small payment, or you can take them to official Household Waste Recycling Centres. And if you are purchasing new products, since 2014 retailers are obliged to take back your old electrical equipment when you buy new goods providing the product is of the same type and have the same purpose as the new product purchased. Alternatively, if the appliance is in good working order some charities will collect the items either to sell in their charity shop or provide directly to people in need.
There are very specific processes that should be followed for the recycling of appliances. These will aim to recover and recycle products such as steel, aluminium and plastics. But let’s briefly consider a fridge:
- Liquid coolants are manually extracted.
- The main body of a fridge is shredded
- The insulation foam is ground down to release the remaining ozone depleting gases.
- Ozone -depleting gases are removed and destroyed by specialist incineration at temperatures exceeding 1,200C.
Even without any specific or detailed knowledge about the aforementioned processes, it doesn’t take a great deal to work to realise there are huge environmental impacts involved in the disposal process. (Recycle More provides more detailed information here.)
But the above is what should happen when disposal follows the correct process. What if that process isn’t followed?
If your household appliance goes to landfill it may be leeching toxic substances that can leak into the soil, water and air and cause serious environmental damage.
Alternatively, appliances not disposed of correctly could end up being incinerated. There is a great deal of dispute about this process: organisations such as Greenpeace suggest gases from incineration may cause air pollution and contribute to acid rain, while the ash from incinerators may contain heavy metals and other toxins. However, burning waste can generate energy and many local authorities prefer incineration to landfill.
Most household appliances run on electricity or gas, the production of which increases greenhouse gases within the atmosphere. There is a very small amount of naturally occurring carbon dioxide in the air, but consuming electricity and utilising appliances increases those levels considerably.
Consider how the energy you are using is being generated. Do you have a renewable energy tariff or are you using a company such as Green Energy that provides 100% green gas and 100% renewable energy?
Or perhaps you have had other renewable energy systems installed such as a solar panels and /or air source heat pump?
As already mentioned, if you are buying new appliances, particularly larger items such as tumble dryers and fridge-freezers, check the eco-rating and get the most energy efficient product you can.
Always try to operate equipment such as washing machines and dishwashers with a full load. In fact, ask yourself if you really need to be using the item in the first place: could that washing go on the line to dry in the fresh ait? Could those few cups be washed by hand?
The health issues associated with electronic equipment.
Technology has improved our wellbeing in many ways, but it’s not always beneficial. One of the most significant dangers related to the rise of technology is inactivity. Nowadays, you can speak to an appliance, and it will provide you with an answer or complete an action or command within seconds. You don’t even have to get up off the sofa to play a song or switch the lights on.
Sedentary lifestyles are linked to a whole host of health problems, including an increased risk of some forms of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
As well as decreasing physical activity, technology can reduce brain activity. Do you really need your fridge to tell you what its contents are, when products are nearing sell by dates, what you need to purchase? You know the saying: “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” So, keep those brain cells active if you don’t want to increase the risk of health issues such as dementia in later years!
If you use kitchen appliances or fire up gadgets or machines in the living room without really thinking, it is probably time to consider some very simple changes you can make you reduce the negative impact of household appliances in your home. Look for opportunities to buy second-hand appliances, ensure you recycle products you don’t want or use anymore properly, shop around for environmentally-friendly products and brands that support green initiativesand,and take sensible steps to restrict your energy consumption. If you are purchasing new products invest in smart, energy-efficient appliances but don’t choose a load of unnecessary electroci gizmos. Smart technology such as smart meters to help you keep track of energy usage is a sensible option, but do resist the temptation to let technology control every aspect of your life. Many of us have several appliances switched on and running at the same time without even realising and being more aware of your energy consumption can help to lower bills as well as reducing your environmental impacts.
There’s no doubt that technology has revolutionised the way we live. In many ways, the arrival of innovative household appliances has been a blessing, but it is essential to understand the potential impact of running a home awash with cables, plugs, and flashing lights. If you’re keen to do your bit for the planet, keep an eye on your energy consumption, invest in energy-efficient appliances and only use your appliances when you need to.