Last updated: Sept/Oct 2010
According to Chris Goodall in the new edition of ‘How to live a low carbon life’, a typical electric kettle uses a surprising amount of energy – about 150 Kwh/year. That is about 4% of the total electricity consumed in the home.(1)
The problem of overfilling
“If everybody boiled just the amount of water they needed for just one day, we could save enough energy to light every street lamp in the UK the following night.”
Go Make a Difference(2)
People often boil about twice as much water as they need and many kettles only boil a minimum of half a litre or more.(5)
Kettles which help people use the right amount of water are therefore a step forward. The ECO Kettle, for example, has two compartments and you can release as little as one cup of water from one compartment to the other to be boiled. The Breville Hot Cup and Tefal Quick Cup are ‘hot water dispensers’ which also limit the amount of water that you boil at one time.
Increasingly other electric kettles are being marketed as ‘Energy Efficient’ or ‘Energy Saving’ because they have a water level indicator that helps you to boil only a cupful at a time.
Most new kettles now have 3kW heating elements rather than 2kW. Although this means that boiling a litre of water will use the same amount of energy, it will be one minute quicker. There is therefore less incentive not to overfill the kettle so as to reduce the boiling time.
On the plus side, most electric kettles now have heating elements which are concealed by a stainless steel plate. This means you can put in just what you need rather than having to make sure you’ve covered the element.
Another reason why we overfill new kettles is their shape, according to Chris Goodall.(1) The current fashion is for jug kettles to no longer be cylindrical but wider at the bottom which means that the minimum fill is greater.
Chris Goodall argues that it’s important to fill your kettle accurately, de-scale it regularly to keep it energy efficient and boil it only once. Kettles with variable temperature settings will also save energy. Herbal teas and fresh coffee are meant to taste better when made with water just below boiling point. Morphy Richards’ Ecolectric and Intelliboil kettles and the ECO3 Kettle all have variable temperature settings.
Green Electric Kettles
- All the ECO Kettle models and the Tefal Quick Cup are Energy Saving Trust recommended.
- ECO3 Kettle and Morphy Richards’ Intelliboil kettles both have variable temperature control and one cup water level indicator.
Gas hob kettles
According to Chris Goodall, in terms of carbon emissions and expense, the best option is a whistling kettle on a gas hob as the table below shows.
The saving is however not a great one: an average household would only save £10 a year and 30kg of CO2.(1)
The cost of boiling water
||amount used to boil 1 litre (kWh)
||price per kWh (p)
||cost per litre of boiled water (p)
||CO2 emitted per boiled litre (kg)
Pit falls to avoid with gas hob kettles are:
- Electric kettles turn themselves off, whilst hob kettles can be left boiling. It is possible to minimise this by getting a whistling kettle to alert you.
- Some heat can be wasted up the sides of the kettle if not placed correctly. But this heat won’t be ‘wasted’ in the winter as it will help heat your home.
- It is usually much harder to gauge how much you are filling a hob kettle – they don’t seem to come with water level guides. It seems the manufacturers have missed a trick here that their electric competitors have already cottoned on to.
Green hob kettles
Bodum make a glass kettle called Clara which means you can see how much you are putting in.
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)
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.
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.
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. There is a boycott of Siemens for supplying oil company Total with gas turbines in Burma.
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. 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
8. Recycle Now website
9. Burma Campaign Dirty List July 2010
10. Hoovers website May 2009
11. SOMO report - “Philips Electronics. Overview of controversial business practices in 2008”