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Optimal useful life of household appliances analyzed to reduce environmental impacts

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Sustainable production and consumption (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.spc.2022.04.007″ width=”800″ height=”530″/>

Graphic abstract. Credit: Sustainable production and consumption (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.spc.2022.04.007

How meaningful are replacement programs to replace existing appliances with new, more efficient ones? Posted in Sustainable production and consumptiona study conducted by the Life Cycle Thinking Group of UPV/EHU and Ekopol concludes that the use of renewable energy in household appliances would delay the need to replace them for environmental reasons until they have been used for 30 years.

The high energy consumption of the society in which we live encourages to propose solutions to reduce CO2 emissions using new, more efficient technologies. But can the environmental impacts be reduced during the use phase? How meaningful are replacement programs to replace existing appliances with new, more efficient ones? Until now, little attention has been paid to understanding the optimal runtime of household appliances in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To fill the gap that has existed so far, the UPV/EHU Life Cycle Think Tank and Ekopol have analysed, through the Masters in Circular Economy and Project Management, the equivalent CO2 impact of three representative household appliances, such as microwave ovens, dishwashers and washing machines, throughout their life cycle. Thus, from their manufacture, their subsequent use and their end of life, including dismantling and recycling, are taken into consideration. “For all three cases, we calculated the necessary efficiency that new devices must have to replace existing ones for reasons of reducing environmental impact,” said Ortzi Akizu-Gardoki, a researcher at the Life Cycle Thinking Group of the ‘UPV/EHU and one of the authors of the study.

“To come up with appropriate guidelines designed to reduce impact, we analyzed the current situation and compared it to four hypothetical scenarios focusing on material efficiency, recycled materials, renewable electricity and responsible consumption,” explained Akizu. “We were thus able to quantify the possible reduction of impacts, whether they are in the manufacture, use or end of life of the product, and to evaluate more effective alternatives.”

A new class A household appliance versus renewable energy

“In our benchmarking,” Ortzi Akizu said, “we found that electricity consumption during the use phase of household appliances is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“In addition, we have seen that applying measures within the circular economy can potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from household appliances. In particular, it is possible to achieve CO2 emission reductions of up to 68% for microwave ovens, 76% for dishwashers and 61% for washing machines. These improvements are achieved through the combination of a renewable energy mix in the use phase and a 10% reduction in energy consumption through responsible use,” adds the UPV/EHU researcher.

However, “the environmental improvements achieved are accompanied by an increase in the number of years of use of the existing device before it is replaced by a new energy-efficient device. Indeed, when a 100% renewable energy mix is ​​applied during the use phase, the replacement by a “class A” microwave oven, a dishwasher and a washing machine would only be ecologically preferable after 24.4, 19.3, and 28.5 years, respectively,” Akizu said. “If the energy consumed during use is reduced by 10% through responsible consumption habits, these durations are respectively extended at 30.3, 26.2 and 33.9 years.”

This study shows that to move towards the reduction of CO2 emissions, it is more efficient (from an environmental point of view) to invest in renewable energies than in “replacement systems” for household appliances. “All of these results can help the manufacturing sector, policy makers and members of the public to promote environmentally sustainable production and consumption patterns,” Akizu concluded.


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More information:
Carlos Alejandre et al, Optimal operational life of household appliances considering improvements in manufacturing and use stages via life cycle analysis, Sustainable production and consumption (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.spc.2022.04.007

Provided by University of the Basque Country

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