MANCHESTER, England — Trying to leave a cleaner carbon footprint? You might want to consider cooking more of your meals in a conventional oven. A new study finds that collective microwave usage may be just as bad for the environment as millions of cars.
Researchers at the University of Manchester examined the total environmental impact of microwaves, all the way from being manufactured by a brand to disposal by the consumer. They determined that the devices emit 7.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year in the European Union, roughly the same amount as 6.8 million cars.
When it comes to electricity, the researchers found microwaves use roughly the same amount per year — as what three large gas power plants produce.
The authors say a key way to reduce resource consumption by microwaves comes down to proper disposal and more informed customer behavior to use appliances more efficiently.
“Consumers now tend to buy new appliances before the existing ones reach the end of their useful life as electronic goods have become fashionable and ‘status’ items,” explains study author Dr. Alejandro Gallego-Schmid in a university news release. “As a result, discarded electrical equipment, such as microwaves, is one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide.”
Gallego-Schmid and his team focused on the average lifecycle of microwaves to get a better sense of their overall environmental impact. He and his team found that the materials used to make microwaves, the manufacturing process itself, and end-of-life waste management were large factors contributing to their overall environmental impact.
Due to the relatively low cost and ubiquity microwaves, people are disposing of them and other electronic devices faster than ever.
Microwaves aren’t lasting as long as they used to, the study found. The average microwave’s lifespan in the EU was 10 to 15 years in the late 1990s, whereas most don’t make it past eight years today.
The researchers hope their work will lead to tighter regulations and better consumer awareness of how microwaves and other electronic equipment are hurting the environment.
The full study was published in the March 2018 edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment.