Is an iron necessary or is it just a labour creating device which has no place in a green household?
Irons are particularly heavy users of electricity. A typical iron uses 2000w which is more than a vacuum cleaner, toaster or microwave. And the new generation of ‘steam generators’, where steam is created in a separate container, use even more energy than conventional steam irons. Plus they are an even bigger piece of kit so use more raw materials. Basically the bigger the iron and the higher the wattage, the bigger the carbon footprint.
Energy saving tips
• Minimise the need for ironing by spinning less, hanging to dry straight away, pulling into shape and drying on hangers, hanging or neatly folding dry washing, learning to love crumples.(6)
• Buy the lowest wattage iron you can find especially if it’s a non-steam one. What’s wrong with using a water spray, wet tea cloth or damp clothes to get the steam- ironed effect?
• Use the coolest setting you can.
• Turn the iron off when you only have one thing left to iron. Irons stay hot after they’re switched off.(2)
Morphy Richards is working with the Carbon Trust to measure the carbon footprint of nine of its steam irons which now carry the Carbon Reduction label, committing the company to reducing those irons’ footprints over the following two years. It found that over 80% of the carbon footprint comes from using an iron, 4.5% from raw materials, 8.5% from manufacture, 0.5% from distribution and 0.2% from disposal.
The following Morphy Richards’ irons have the lowest carbon footprint of the nine models that carry the Carbon Reduction label – they emit 35g of greenhouse gases per man’s shirt over the product’s lifecycle:
Morphy Richards’ Turbosteam Tip Technology Steam Iron – ceramic soleplate (£34.99) or non-stick soleplate (£29.99)
Morphy Richards’ Turbosteam – aluminium soleplate (£19.99).
Ironing a shirt
Mike Berners-Lee looks at the carbon footprint of ironing in an extract taken from his new book ‘How Bad are Bananas? – the carbon footprint of everything’ (Profile Books 2010).
14g CO2e a quick, expert skim on a slightly damp shirt
25g CO2e average
70g CO2e a thoroughly crumpled shirt ironed by unskilled hands.
Five shirts every week is about the same as a 10-mile drive once a year in an average car.
A friend of mine used to iron her husband’s socks (she’s now divorced). If you’re feeling stuck in a similar routine, I hope you will find the carbon argument gives a bit more power to your elbow.
Although ironing isn’t the biggest environmental issue, there may be scope for saving a little bit of carbon here – and perhaps some lifestyle improvement, too. For ironing that simply has to be done, the best green step is to have the clothes slightly damp and use the ironing process itself to finish off the drying. That saves both time and carbon (especially if you otherwise would be using an energy hungry tumble drier). Even more effective is simply using the iron less often.
A few people allegedly enjoy this activity, almost as a hobby. If ironing is how you get your kicks, it works out at about 400g CO2e per hour. That’s about five times worse than watching the average TV but dramatically better than going for a drive. I have also heard ironing described as having meditative value. I can only assume that this goes something along the lines of ‘a deep reflection on the resentment you notice inside yourself at spending your time in this way’. If this is you, can I recommend a good old-fashioned, Zen-style breathing routine, weighing in at zero g CO2e?
Recycling and Disposal
An electrical item can be recycled if it has a plug, uses batteries, needs charging or has the crossed out wheelie bin logo on it.
If you have any small electrical items that fit the bill, find out where your nearest recycling centre is from the Recycle Now website or contact your local council. You can even arrange for your old equipment to be collected which some councils do for free.
The WEEE Directive means that retailers and manufacturers have to either pay towards electrical recycling facilities at a council site or offer a service themselves. Ask whether they will take away your old item if you get a new one delivered from them, or whether you can bring it into the shop or send it back to the manufacturer for recycling.
There are lots of other ways to dispose of those unused and unwanted electrical items that are tucked away in our drawers and cupboards.
Electricals that are in good working order can be donated to selected branches of Cancer Research UK, Oxfam and British Heart Foundation. However, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK are two of a number of charities that conduct or fund medical test on animals, according to Animal Aid.(7)
The Furniture Reuse Network has an interactive map which will find your nearest re-use charity, and many of these will take electrical goods.
There is also the option of donating them to someone else through sites such as Freecycle.
Did you know?
Three out of every four of us have at least one old or unused electrical item in our home which could be recycled to help save precious resources.(8) Many of these items contain plastics and metals that can be recycled to make new products. For example, just one toaster can provide enough steel to make 25 new cans.(8)
1 How to live a low carbon life – Chris Goodall (Earthscan 2010)
2 Go make a difference – over 500 daily ways to save the planet (Think Publishing, 2006)
3 How bad are bananas? - the carbon footprint of everything: Mike Berners-Lee (Profile Books 2010)
4 Which? April 2010
5 The Guardian - 7th March 2008
6 Ms Harris’s Book of Green Household Management – Caroline Harris (John Murray, 2009)
7 Health Charities and Animal Testing – Animal Aid website www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/CAMPAIGNS/experiments//281//
8 Recycle Now website – www.recyclenow.com
Supply chain policies
A poor showing as per usual for the electrical equipment industry. Manufacture in the Far East is the norm and many of the bigger companies in this report (Siemens, Philips and Panasonic) have been criticised for using subcontractors there that have abused workers’ rights. For example, the following problems were detected at a Philips’ supplier factory in China:
• Workers were not always allowed to resign unless the company were able to recruit new employees.
• Wages were low and, after deductions for meals and dormitory fees, were often below the stipulated minimum wage. Even 50 hours of monthly overtime was not always enough to bring in enough money to cover daily expenditures.
• The factory had a union, but according to interviewed workers it often favoured the management’s interest.
• Some workers mentioned compulsory overtime.
• Others complained that they sometimes had to stand for an entire 11 hours shift, and as a result of high productivity quotas, found it difficult to get pauses for short rests.
• In addition wages were found to be docked even for minor offences.(3)
Although none of the top scorers in this report have been name checked in any critical reports, they are likely to be using subcontractors with similar problems. And if they don’t even have a supply chain policy, there is no evidence that this is even a concern for them.
None of the top overall scorers had a policy or, in most cases, any mention at all of workers’ rights at supplier companies. Because we find this unacceptable, we have recommended companies lower down in the tables in our Best Buys.
Home Retail Group (Argos and Cookworks) and John Lewis just miss getting our best rating for supply chain policy because of their lack of detail about independent auditing.
Bialetti did not have a formal supply chain policy but did state that its coffee makers were made in Italy.
The failure of the better scoring companies to have adequate supply chain policies means that none of the companies are currently eligible for our Best Buy label.
Only ECO Kettle and Philips get our best rating for environmental reporting. Of the rest of the companies, it is the big players and poor overall scorers that do best and get a middle rating – John Lewis, Bosch/Siemens, Procter & Gamble, Home Retail and Panasonic.
Animal rights group Uncaged lead a global consumer boycott of Procter & Gamble in protest at their continued use of animals in cruel and deadly toxicity tests for the sake of cosmetics and cleaning products. The full list of P&G brands to boycott appears at www.uncaged.co.uk/pgproducts.htm. See also our Boycotts News page for details of an Uncaged campaign against P&G sponsoring the London Olympics in 2012.
Rutland Partners, a UK private equity firm, owns the small domestic appliance brands which include Breville, Hinari, Bush and Dirt Devil. It says that its products are manufactured by third party suppliers in the Far East but there was no mention of a supply chain policy for workers’ rights.
German companies Bosch and Siemens have a joint venture for domestic appliances. Robert Bosch is owned by a charitable foundation. Siemens constructs all sorts of power plants including nuclear and fossil fuel fired ones.2 There is a boycott of Siemens for supplying oil company Total with gas turbines in Burma.1
Japanese company Panasonic supplies meters and monitoring equipment to the nuclear industry. It came 6th out of 18 in Greenpeace’s latest ranking of electronics companies’ policies on toxics, recycling and climate change. It also appears in the Solar Panels report in this issue.
Since the introduction of the ECO Kettle, Product Creation Ltd has concentrated on the design of energy saving products for the home. However, their website stated that the company’s ECO Kettle was manufactured in China – “the very best in European design together with the economic benefits of manufacturing in China”. We could not find any mention of safeguarding workers’ rights at supplier companies.
The BODUM Group is a 100% family-owned business based in Switzerland. Today, it is owned by the daughter and son of the founder Peter Bodum and produces coffee presses (aka cafetières), teapots and electric kettles.
The Italian company Bialetti has production plants in Italy, India, Turkey and Romania. It says its coffee makers are made in Italy where it manufactures the iconic Moka Express stove top espresso maker which was invented in 1933. It has patented a sound system for its Moka and Dama models which warns you when the coffee is ready.
Silampos is a Portuguese company which owns the UK Judge and Stellar brands which are all stainless steel and come with a 25 year and lifetime guarantee respectively.
La Cafetière is owned by the Welsh Greenfield Group which also owns a company that makes explosion prevention systems for industries such as oil, gas and petrochemicals – hence its Climate Change mark. La Cafetière distributes Bialetti products in the UK.
US company Spectrum Brands not only owns Russell Hobbs but also Rayovac and Varta batteries, Remington shavers and several pet food companies.
1 Burma Campaign Dirty List July 2010
2 Hoovers website May 2009
3 SOMO report - “Philips Electronics. Overview of controversial business practices in 2008”