Microwaves: as polluting as cars


The microwave took a little longer to settle in Europe, but it is rare that a home does not have one. Having overcome the false myths about supposed health risks, we had not paid as much attention to its environmental impact. A recent study indicates that in the European Union microwaves can be as polluting as 6.8 million cars each year.

Research conducted by the University of Manchester and published in the journal Science of The Total Environment has focused on examining the complete life cycle of a microwave, from its manufacture to its disposal, analyzing 12 different environmental factors to estimate the total impact that these devices have on the environment. And it seems that we are not on the right track.

Microwaves: high CO2 emissions, excessive energy consumption and increasingly shorter service life

The researchers, among whom are the Spanish Alejandro Gallego-Schmid and Joan Manuel F. Mendoza, conclude that there are three key points in the pollution produced by microwaves in Europe: the carbon dioxide emissions produced, the consumption of electricity and the large number of appliances that are thrown away every year due to the short life of new appliances.

According to this study, the microwaves used in the EU countries each year emit about 7.7 tons of CO2, the equivalent of the emissions of 6.8 million cars in the same period. However, the figures for energy consumption throughout its cycle seem more worrying: it is estimated that all European appliances consume about 9.4 terawatt hours each year, the same electricity generated by three large gas plants.

Assuming that an ordinary microwave has a life of eight years in domestic use, it will have consumed 573 kilowatts per hour, the same expense that a 7-watt LED light bulb would produce on for nine years in a row, without ever turning it off.

Another big problem is that household appliances, especially low and mid-range, are lasting less and less. Either due to planned obsolescence or because we prefer to renew them sooner, microwaves end up in the garbage very soon. It is something that anyone has been able to verify: the first microwave that my parents bought twenty years ago continues to work just as well; the one at the vacation home lasted five years.

Is there a solution to this scenario? As the researchers themselves indicate, you have to be aware of the problem and act accordingly. In the first place, new regulations should be applied around the manufacture and design of new devices so that their production and use generate less impact, and it is also important to better educate or inform the population.

Much of the energy expenditure of a home and its polluting effect derives from the misuse of household appliances. It is necessary to learn to use the microwave correctly, adjusting the power and times to each food or preparation, taking advantage of the specific programs of each model, if applicable.

Perhaps it is also time to rethink whether we have become too lazy using the microwave for anything. Sometimes it can mean savings compared to other appliances - for example, the oven uses a lot of energy and takes longer to heat up - but knowing how to use it well is essential to be efficient.

And, of course, we must choose the model we need well so that it lasts with us as long as possible. The management of waste from consumer electrical appliances is another of our great pending issues, which we hope that all the agents involved will begin to take really seriously.

More information | The University of Manchester
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