Microwave Ovens


Ethical shopping guide to Microwave Ovens, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Microwave Ovens, from Ethical Consumer.


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

 

This guide is part of a special report on Home Appliances and includes:

 

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 29 microwave brands including combi ovens
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Are microwave ovens bad for you?
  • Energy efficiency
  • See also the guide to Cookers, Ovens & Hobs

 

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

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Best Buys

as of February 2018


As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the scorecard may have changed since this report was written.


Best Buys

Miele is our Best Buy for Microwaves, although they can be rather expensive.

 

Recommended Buys

Gorenje and Belling are also recommended, but are not eligible to be Best Buys as they received a worst rating in the Supply Chain Management category.


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Image: Microwave

 


Ethical Consumer makes a small amount of money from your purchase. This goes to fund our research and campaigning. We ethically screen all the sites we link to.

Last updated: March 2018 

 

 

 

 

Related Content

Special Report into Home Appliances

 

 

The ethical impacts of microwaves

 

This guide covers microwaves, including combination microwaves which also have conventional heating methods built in. 

We look into energy efficiency, mainly in comparison with other cooking methods, and question whether the potential energy savings are worth the costs of manufacture.

We also offers some advice on how best to dispose of your unwanted microwave, trie to separate fact from fiction when it comes to health risks, and look at the issues related to microwave meals.

 

 

Image: Microwave

 

 

Highlights from the score table above

 

Arms and military supply – Eleven companies on the table were marked down in the Arms and Military Supply category. Companies get marked down here for activities such as supplying weapons, equipment, technology or systems to the defence industry, or for investing in such activities. The microwave technology that microwave ovens use was actually invented by the US defence firm Raytheon in the first place, while they were developing radar systems.

 

Conflict minerals – Almost all of the companies in the table lost marks under Human Rights and Habitats and Resources because they did not have an adequate policy to prevent the sourcing of conflict minerals for their products.

The only companies that did not get our worst rating for conflict minerals were Siemens, Samsung and Panasonic, which all received a middle rating, and HRG Group (Russell Hobbs) and LG which received best ratings.

Conflict minerals sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries are a major issue in the electrical industry. Profits from their sale has frequently been found to fund wars and arm militias. The mining practices are usually also very unsustainable, and forced and child labour is a common problem.


Pollutions and Toxics – Every single company on this table lost marks under Pollution and Toxics. This is mainly due to a failure to phase out a number of frequently used substances in the electronic industry that are considered highly toxic.

 

 

Energy Efficiency

 

Microwave vs. ovens
 

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question of whether microwaves provide an efficient way to cook and heat food than ovens – it is all about how you use them. 

If you want to boil a cup of water it is actually more efficient to stick to your kettle (although remember to only boil the water you need).

On the other hand, if you want to heat smaller portions of food it is definitely better to use a microwave than a conventional oven as it can be around 80% more efficient

As our product guide to cookers points out, ovens are only 10-12% efficient because they have to heat the entire oven space, whereas microwaves heat the water in the food directly.

While microwaves are more efficient than ovens, the difference decreases as the amount of food increases. It also depends on whether your oven is gas or electric (see oven guide).

Confusedaboutenergy.com provides a comparative list of the typical energy usage of cooking different types of food with either a microwave or conventional cooker

 

Is the cost of manufacture worth the savings in household energy?

However, cooking is an area where choosing the most efficient methods may not significantly impact on the overall energy usage of a household. UK Government data found that, on average, cooking represents less than 3% of household energy usage – about 910 kWh per year on average. 

Taking that into consideration means that, even if you can save energy by using a microwave for some cooking processes, it is not necessarily worth the energy and resources used to manufacture that microwave in the first place. A recent study suggested that the energy used to manufacture a microwave is about 494 kWh – a fifth of its total lifetime energy use – and has other environmental impacts as well. 

A Microwave should last around 7-9 years. Interestingly this is about 6-7 years shorter than the lifespan of a microwave 20 years ago. Our advice is that if you have a microwave then by all means use it, but if it breaks or you don’t yet have one, perhaps question whether you really need one, or consider buying second hand.

 

 

Energy labels
 

Comparing energy efficiency between microwaves can also be a little tricky. Unlike many other household appliances, microwaves are not required to carry an energy label.

However, one tip is to either avoid getting a microwave with a digital clock or, if it does have one, make sure you turn it off in-between uses – unless, of course, you are using it as your clock! Reports on this vary, but some have suggested that if a microwave with a clock is plugged in at all times, overall more energy will go towards powering the clock than heating food. The EU should extend labelling laws to cover all products that consume energy in use.

 

 

Combination Microwave ovens

A combination microwave-oven may be an option if you have limited space and are looking to replace your oven. These are single units which contain both conventional and microwave heating mechanisms. This means that you can still get the energy-saving benefits of cooking with a microwave, without the extra impacts of manufacturing, transporting and disposing of a whole extra appliance.

 


 

 

Disposal


When it comes to microwaves, how you dispose of an old one can be just as important as how you choose your new one or use your current one.

According to Waste Connect, electrical and electronic waste is one of the fasted growing waste streams in the UK. A recent study suggested that, in 2005, 184,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic (EE) waste was produced by discarded microwaves and predicted this to rise to 195,000 tonnes by 2025. Electrical waste can cause harmful toxins to leak into the environment.

You can prevent your microwave ending up in the landfill by using the Recycle Now website to find your nearest recycling centre that will accept your microwave. 

If you are purchasing a new microwave then the EU ‘WEEE’ directive states that the company you are buying from must provide a ‘take-back’ service for your old microwave where it is the company’s responsibility to dispose of it correctly (this also applies to other household appliances and electrical items). If your microwave is still in working order than you can also sell it or donate it.

 

 

Health and safety
 

There is a lot of opposing information out there relating to the effect of microwaves and microwaved food on our health. Product recalls tend to have been around faulty components causing a fire hazard or risk of electric shocks, not dissimilar to the dangers of other household appliances.

 

Nutrients and carcinogens:

Some studies have found that microwaving starchy foods causes acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical, to form in the food. However, this is also true of baking and frying starchy foods. Studies offer opposing results about whether microwaves are a more dangerous or safer option than frying.  Boiling is considered the safest method of cooking starchy foods to avoid high levels of acrylamide formation.

The situation is similar when it comes to looking at whether microwaves destroy nutrients in food. It is true that food will lose some nutrients when cooked in a microwave. However, this is equally true of traditional cooking methods. The effect can also vary between different nutrients. For example, some have found that more omega 3 is lost through microwave cooking but also that antioxidants are better retained

 

Radiation

Some people worry that microwaving food can cause it to become radioactive, or that using microwaves can expose you to harmful radiation. Microwaves are a low-energy form of radiation and work by emitting enough energy to cause water molecules in the food to move. This movement then causes friction which, in turn, produces heat.

Microwaves are a form of non-ionising radiation. Microwaves are not strong enough to remove electrons, which is what is required for substances or objects to become radioactive. 

This also means they do not have the energy to alter cells in the same way that more powerful forms of radiation do. While overexposure to non-ionising radiation can be damaging, causing problems such as burns, it will not damage your cells and DNA in a way that will cause them to become cancerous. Microwave ovens are designed to contain the microwaves within the oven, so overexposure would only be likely if you were inside the microwave! 

When it comes to microwaves, as with other appliances, there is probably a greater risk of harm from either fire or electric shock. All the product recalls related to brands in this guide were related to these two factors. As long as your microwave is not damaged it should be safe to use. However, considering we haven’t found any significant ethical benefit to having a microwave, there is certainly no harm in erring on the side of caution if you are worried about the effects of microwaves.

 

 

Microwave meal packaging
 

The microwave ovens themselves are not the only issue to think about. With the microwave came the microwave meal, packaged in a plastic tray with a plastic film. Not all local authorities collect these plastic trays. Where they do, black plastic trays make it difficult for sensors at recycling plants to pick out the containers against the backdrop of a conveyor belt. This leads to a high proportion of black containers being mistakenly sent to landfill from the recycling plant.

Some companies have started to develop ‘compostable’ alternatives to plastic microwave containers – these are designed to be recycled with food waste.

 

 

 Company Profile

 

Sharp microwaves are sold and manufactured in the UK by Vestel which is owned by Turkish company, Zorlu Holding AS. The Zorlu Group’s other areas of business include mining, defence and energy.

In order to use the Sharp brand name, Vestel AS has a licensing agreement with Sharp Corporation, which has recently been taken over by Hon Hai Precision Industries.

Hon Hai owns Foxconn, which manufactures products for many big-name brands, including Apple. Foxconn has been heavily criticised for the working conditions in its factories.

 
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