No, your microwave oven isn't killing the planet

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These stupid headlines miss the whole point. Microwaves use very little power, slightly more than a 7-watt LED bulb over its lifetime.

Honestly, if you read these headlines you would think that it was time to throw out your microwave right now. They all are interpretations of a recent study led by Alejandro Gallego-Schmid of the University of Manchester titled Environmental assessment of microwaves and the effect of European energy efficiency and waste management legislation.

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The study notes that there are a lot of microwave ovens in Europe (130 million) so that, in total, they burn a lot of electricity (9.4 Terawatt/hours) per year. A lot of that electricity comes from burning fossil fuels and garbage, putting out a lot of CO2.

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But they conclude that new EU regulations on standby power consumption will reduce consumption by 4 to 9 percent, and decarbonization of the electricity supply will reduce most impacts by 6 to 24 percent by 2020, and recommend that "eco-design regulation for microwaves should be developed to reduce resource use" – which one could say about absolutely any appliance.

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But even the University of Manchester has a clickbait headline and summarizes the results with inane comparisons:

The study found:

  • Microwaves emit 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in the EU. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 6.8 million cars.
  • Microwaves across the EU consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour (TWh) of electricity every year. This is equivalent to the annual electricity generated by three large gas power plants.Efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently.
What this means is: there are a lot of microwave ovens out there, and the cumulative electrical load is high, and it is higher than it needs to be because of the standby power used running the clocks and other electronics. But the University of Manchester keeps using crazy comparisons:
The study found that, on average, an individual microwave uses 573 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity over its lifetime of eight years. That is equivalent to the electricity consumed by a 7 watt LED light bulb, left on continuously for almost nine years.
Wow, that sounds terrible. That, right there, is the silliest comparison ever, and says it all – an oven uses in eight years what an LED bulb uses in nine, or 1.14 times the power consumption of an LED bulb. This is killing the planet? Being a life-cycle analysis, they look at the energy and carbon generated in the manufacture and disposal of microwaves, and Dr Alejandro Gallego-Schmid notes:
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. As a result, discarded electrical equipment, such as microwaves, is one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide.
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But as the Guardian notes, microwave ovens are the most efficient way to cook, and the comparison to cars is idiotic. David Reay of the University of Edinburgh explains:
“Yes, there are a lot of microwaves in the EU, and yes, they use electricity, But their emissions are dwarfed by those from cars – there are around 30m cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU.
Simon Bullock of Friends of the Earth tells the Guardian that people should look at their source of power.
“Yes, it’s important to use microwaves efficiently,” said Simon Bullock, senior climate change campaigner for the charity Friends of the Earth. “But so is making sure the electricity that powers them is as low pollution as possible. The government should reverse its policy attacks on solar and onshore wind. We need green electrons powering all the nation’s tellies, microwaves and fridges.”
Even the study author backtracks a bit in the Guardian, noting:
The aim of our study was not to compare microwaves to other cooking appliances but to look at the environmental impacts of microwaves as ubiquitous devices in households in Europe and draw attention to the need to make their design, use and end-of-life waste management more efficient.
inquisitrInquisitr/Screen capture
Almost everything we do uses power, and you can multiply it out and find that when you have a lot of people, it uses a lot of power. Using this logic, I expect that my electric toothbrush is killing the planet.Of course, if the University of Manchester is writing this kind of headline in their press release, you really cannot blame all the other newspapers. But really, your microwave is not killing the planet.
cooking comparison© consumer energy center
Cooking with a microwave uses a fraction of the energy at a fraction of the cost to cook a given item than any other appliance. That should be the story here.

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