Big green cleaning machine?
Dishwashers are often perceived to be energy-guzzling luxuries, but is using one really such an unethical option? Elanor Gordon dishes the dirt on the major brands.
Dishwashers use less water and electricity than washing by hand. Surprised? This is not just the argument of manufacturers, and devotees of the machines, but also the results of a European-wide survey by the University of Bonn, which compared the use of water, energy and detergent for a fixed sample number of dishes, washed by 113 individual European testers. (1)
Water consumption was claimed to be substantially less in dishwashers than the average amount used by testers, even in the UK, which had the second lowest average for all the testers - a supposed 63 litres compared to fifteen litres for a 'normal' program on a dishwasher (22 litres for the 'intensive' program). (1)
Energy use was about the same - averaging at 1.6kwh for handwashing, compared to 2kwh for an ?intensive' program, and 1kwh for a ?normal' program. (1) This profile of dishwashers looks promising, but that's before taking into account that most people have to wash some delicate items by hand.
Also, it does not take account of the energy and materials used to build a dishwasher. We look at the energy consumption of specifc brands below, and what is revealed about the environmental impact of dishwasher manufacture.
Building a dishwasher is very energy consuming. Quite a few companies did respond to our requests for environmental reports, but unfortunately, although many of them detailed their achievements, none of them showed fixed targets for what they were planning to achieve in the years following the release of their reports.
Merloni Elettrodomestici, Miele and Electrolux showed the best understanding of their companies' environmental impacts, and appeared to have taken their commitment to the wider environment far more seriously than other firms.
In particular, Miele claims its machines have an average lifespan of 20 years, with many going for longer, and its sustainability report explains in detail how it integrates environmental concerns into its manufacturing. (2)
Merloni Elettrodomestici has won awards for its environmental performance, including an Ecohitech Award, for the category of environmentally-friendly products, as the company offered "a product/service that covers the range of top class, high technology and energy efficiency electric household appliances: refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, hobs and dishwashers: all manufactured with a remarkable reduction in parts compared to the past and with simplified dismounting techniques as well as using branded plastic materials, to facilitate recovery and recycling." (3)
Electrolux introduced a Restricted Materials List in 2003, which required the company and its suppliers to ban or restrict the use of many toxic chemicals in its manufacturing.(4)
Whistle while you work
For those concerned about their dishwasher being built in an Asian sweatshop, breathe a small sigh of relief - it appears that many are built in the EU. The only ones found to have been built in an oppressive regime were Turkish company Beko's machines. (5)
Almost all of Miele's employees worldwide are based in Germany - most of them work in Miele's many German production plants(2) - and Miele machines seen in the shops were made in Germany, as were Bosch's and Siemens'. (5)
The Quality Manager of the Smeg Group's factory Bonferraro SpA, Italy, wrote to us stating that its dishwashers were built there.(6) Candy and Hoover machines were also found to have been made in Italy. (5)
The best code of conduct was sent by Merloni Elettrodomestici. It had been established in agreement with the International Metalworkers' Federation and other trade unions in Russia and Italy, and was the first signed by a company of its size and reach with the metalworking industry. (7)
What's it AAA'll about?
By law, all dishwashers must have the European Energy Label displayed on them. The labels show the energy efficiency rating of the machines, and are certified by the manufacturers themselves. Dishwashers are also rated for washing and drying performance. The 'AAA' rating is the best rating for all categories, and therefore the best overall choice. The Save Energy website listed 222 'AAA' rated dishwashers. (8)
We have picked out the models of the better-scoring brands on our main table, and cross- referenced them with models listed on the company websites, and as a rough guide, given approximate prices (taken from a free comparison shopping service website) (9).
The table includes full-size and slimline dishwashers. It is also recommended that you buy the size of machine suitable for your needs, use the lowest suitable temperature wash, and only use when full.
In addition to manufacturers' own claims about the energy efficiency of their appliances, additional certification schemes can verify these claims. Several exist for large appliances such as dishwashers. The US-based Energy Star certification scheme exists mainly for machines available in the US, but some of the models it has certified are available in the UK. Because the standard is weak, we have not used it in our assessment of best buys, but if you would like to check out a specific model, see their website for more details.
The European Eco-labelling scheme goes a little further for dishwashers. It requires that energy consumption is reduced by 40%, that water consumption and noise levels are significantly reduced, that dishwashers have energy saving wash cycles, and guaranteed high level performance, and that they can be easily dismantled and recycled. Unfortunately, there are no brands available in the UK which have this certification. In fact, the only European brand of dishwashers with the Eco- label flower is a Greek brand, called Morris (not covered in this report). (10)
The most stringent labelling scheme - the Blue Angel - goes much further than both of these, and requires, in addition to the specifications found in other certification schemes, such standards as parts being clearly labelled for disposal, dioxin- free plastics, heavy-metal free varnishes used for case coatings, and a low carcinogenic rating for insulating materials used. When this report was originally published, no dishwasher had received a Blue Angel label.
The word on reliability comes from the UK Consumers' Association survey of dishwashers. (11) It found that Bosch and Neff (another Bosch brand) were the most reliable, and these two brands, plus Miele and Siemens, were the most recommended by owners. (11)
The survey also found that Candy, Hotpoint, Hoover, Miele, Siemens, Smeg, Tricity Bendix, Whirlpool and Zanussi all had average reliability. The brand with worst reliability was Indesit. (11) In a BBC Watchdog report on dishwashers that caught fire five of 11 machines featured were Indesit models. (12) Overall though, the Which? survey revealed that 86 per cent of dishwashers up to six years old hadn't required repairing.
Don't buy Bush
The Hotpoint brand has a mark in the boycott column because General Electric (GE) is subject to a boycott call by Ethical Consumer's own Boycott Bush campaign, for its donations to the Republican Party totalling $2.58million from 1999 to 2003. The campaign calls for consumers to avoid buying the brands of George W Bush's biggest donors, until they cease funding of the current US administration. The boycott was called in reaction to Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Agreement in 2001 and general "ostrichitis" regarding global warming.
1 A European comparison of cleaning dishes by hand, Dr Rainer Stamminger, 2003 University of Bonn
2 Sustainability Report 2002 Miele & Cie
3 www.merloni.com/eng/media 10/11/2002
4 Restricted Materials List Electrolux Group 1/1/2004
5 ECRA shop survey 26/3/04
6 Email from M. Marloni, Quality Manager of Bonferraro Spa, the factory of SMEG group received 16/4/04
7 International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) press release 8/1/2002
8 www.saveenergy.co.uk 18/5/04
9 www.uk.pricerunner.com 18/5/04
10 www.eco-label.com 13/5/04
11 Which? Magazine August 2003
12 www.bbc.co.uk/watchdog/reports/consumer8.shtml 5/5/04
13 Ethical Consumer magazine issue 88
14 Alba plc Annual Report 2003, Alba plc.
15 www.uponor.com/news/news_2.html?Id=h959773725.html 11/5/04
16 www.merloni.com 5/5/04
17 Merloni Progetti Annual Report 2000
18 Growing in an uncertain world, General Electric Annual Report 2003
19 Utusan Konsumer Vol. 30 No. 12, December 2000
20 Ethical Consumer magazine issue 65 21 Jane's International Defence Directory 2004