Cleaner by degrees
Tim Hunt investigates the environmental performance of washing machines and finds that green machines don?t always mean clean companies.
Sustainability and drudgery
According to an article in the Vatican Newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, published on this year’s International Women’s Day, the washing machine has done more to liberate women in the twentieth century than the contraceptive pill. You could be forgiven for thinking ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they.’ One of the first electric washing machines, produced in New York in 1900, had the legend ‘SAVE WOMEN’S LIVES’ stamped into its metal frame. We wouldn’t want to endorse that as a tenet of contemporary feminism. But there’s no doubt washing machines have taken much of the drudgery out of ‘Wash Day’.
Nine out of ten homes in the UK have washing machines. Many ethical consumers go without electronic goods due to their social and environmental impacts. But when we quizzed friends and contacts to find people whose green credentials saw them forgo modern laundry technology, it was noticeable that convenience trumped carbon footprint every time. One committed deep green, who lives off-grid with his wife and three-year-old, pumps water by hand from a well and wouldn’t dream of wasting solar power on a fridge, admitted: “To be honest, I’m addicted to laundrettes.” We hear from two readers later. So perhaps this is one mod con we should just be grateful for, and do our best to minimise its environmental impact.
And that impact is not inconsiderable. Washing machines in the UK produce the same carbon dioxide emissions annually as about 2.5m cars, according to the Energy Saving Trust.(1) Three-quarters of the energy consumption associated with fabric products comes not from their manufacture or distribution, but from laundering them after they are sold.(2)
Fewer washing machines are being bought now than in the past, as it’s a market of increasingly reliable products, based on replacement. According to consumer research group Mintel we increasingly select washing machines on the basis of their energy efficiency and water consumption – nearly four out of ten consider energy efficiency as important when choosing a new model. Unfortunately, as is often the case, fewer, less than one in five, indicate that they are prepared to pay a premium price for energy efficiency.(3)
Energy and water consumption
It’s easy to see why consumers are concerned about energy and water usage when bills have risen steadily over the years. Washing machines on average account for 22% of household water usage and 6% of domestic electricity consumption.
Front-loading washing machines are much more water efficient than top loading models, using 25% to 40% less water and saving the average home as much as 7,000 gallons of water per year.4 Heating the water is the most energy-intensive part of the process, using 85-90% of total energy.
None of the brands in this report produced ‘hot fill’ models. In the past, we recommended washing machines that filled from the domestic hot water system, rather than heating electrically in the machine, as more efficient. However, the efficiency of the best modern machines, and lower wash temperatures, have probably trumped the gains of older ‘hot fill’ models. And don’t attach your hot water system to a modern ‘cold fill’ machine, as this can cause all sorts of problems.
Clean beads from Leeds
Washing machines are getting continually more efficient, with many using about half as much water as they did 10 years ago. Now scientists at the University of Leeds have developed a new technology that uses 90% less water than conventional machines and 30% less energy. Instead of cleaning clothes using water, thousands of tiny, reusable nylon polymer beads attract and absorb dirt under humid conditions. The developers say only a small amount of water and detergent is needed to dampen the clothes, loosen stains and create the water vapour that allows the beads to work. After the cycle is finished, the beads fall through a mesh in the machine’s drum and can be re-used up to a hundred times. According to the developers if old washing machines were replaced with this type of model it could have the environmental impact of taking two million cars off the road.
Sanyo’s new ‘Aqua’ domestic washer, not yet available in the UK, has two notable features. Firstly, it uses an ‘Aqualoop’ that allows it to recycle water for use in future washes. Secondly, it has a dry cleaning feature that uses ozone to disinfect and deodorize clothes without the need for much water. The ozone is injected into the drum where it decomposes bacteria before returning to the atmosphere. However this process tends to use more detergent.
Break it down
Soap is just a way of making water wetter. Breaking water into H+ and OH- ions has the same effect. That’s how the Haier Wash2O washing machine works, meaning no detergent is needed. Currently the Haier Wash2O is only available in France.
A small controversy
In EC119 we reported on the continuing controversy over nanotechnology in consumer products. There are now washing machines on the market that use nano-technology to disinfect clothing and kill odour-causing bacteria. According to www.nanotechproject.org, which has a searchable database of products containing nanotech, both Samsung and LG use nano silver in some of their washing machine models. LG confirmed to us models containing nano silver are the F1443KDS, F1403TDS, F1409TDS, F122TDS. Samsung did not respond to our request for information, but www.nanotechproject.org list the Samsung C1235A.
There are two main problems with nano silver technology. Firstly, the manufacturing process is highly energy intensive and secondly, and more importantly, the effects of nanotechnology on human health and the wider environment have yet to be fully investigated and quantified.
When used in washing machines nano particles enter the water system along with waste water from each wash. According to a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia, who are campaigning for a moratorium on nanotech: “As a powerful bactericide, silver nano particles threaten bacteria-dependent processes that underpin ecosystem function. Beneficial bacteria are of vital importance to soil, plant and animal health.”(24)
In Sweden, after complaints from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Water and Waste Water Association and the Stockholm Water Authority, Samsung briefly withdrew its nano silver model, but it is now back on the market. A loophole in the Swedish Environmental Code means that legislation does not cover material built into products. As the nano silver is structurally incorporated into the Samsung machines it fell outside of the legislation. The Swedish authorities are concerned that the nano silver will cause damage to water organisms and result in high public costs resulting from the need to remove the silver nano particles from effluent sludge.(24)
In the US several consumer watchdogs have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of nano silver in consumer goods, including washing machines. They cite the harm to aquatic life and the potential for nano silver to prevent the growth of beneficial bacteria in water treatment plants.(25)
FoE Australia and FoE Germany have both called for Samsung’s nano silver appliance range, including washing machines, to be recalled until, “publicly available, peer-reviewed studies can demonstrate its safety for the environment and human health”.(24)
In the UK DEFRA’s Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances is working on a report on nano silver due to be published shortly.
Out with the old?
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) have suggested a scrappage scheme should be introduced, similar to the controversial car scrappage scheme, whereby you would receive cash towards a new machine when you scrap your old one. They have also suggested removing VAT from the most efficient white goods. According to the BRC that would cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 1.3m tonnes a year by 2020, at an annual cost of £507m in lost VAT receipts.(16)
Independent ‘life cycle analysis’ appears to agree with this. Research suggests that running a washing machine over its lifespan uses many times more energy than that used in the manufacture or disposal stage. This would lead to the conclusion that on the whole it is better to get a new efficient machine rather than continuing to use an older model with high energy and water consumption.(35)
If buying new, retailers may recycle your old machine, otherwise contact your local council or see www.recyclenow.com. And if it still works why not give your old machine a new home rather than scrapping it. If you don’t know anyone who wants it contact your local Freecycle group. Most UK Freecycle groups now operate under www.ilovefreegle.org.
Wash at 30°
Energy efficient technology doesn’t guarantee energy saving. If I run my new machine twice as much as my old one, or spend the money I’ve saved on energy bills on a weekend flight to Europe we’re back to square one.
The headline advice on cutting the energy use of washing machines is to wash clothes at 30° instead of higher temperatures. This idea has been pushed by everyone from the Energy Saving Trust to Procter & Gamble. Retail giants Marks & Spencers and Asda have even changed the washing instructions on their clothes to reflect this.
Research by Intertek for Ariel (a brand of Procter & Gamble) claims that by turning dials to 30° we can reduce the energy used when doing our laundry by nearly half (41%). Turning down from 40° to 30° saves about 0.2 kWh per load.
But before trying 30° washes you need to check your washing machine. Most washing machines will have a 30° wash programme but it’s not suitable for washing cottons. This is because these programmes were designed before 30° wash detergents when only delicate laundry needed such a cool wash. As such, the wash action is too gentle, and the spin is too slow for cottons.
Researchers in Korea found that low-temperature cycles in washing machines don’t get rid of some of the most common causes of allergies, such as pollen. In 30° or 40° washes only 6% of house dust mites were killed compared with 100% at 60°. Other allergens remained at higher concentrations on lower wash temperatures. The Korean research questioned detergent manufacturers claims that their products worked just as well at lower temperatures. However they also found that rinsing fabrics three or four times in cold water after washing at 30° produced results comparable with a much hotter wash.(33)
For more tips on washing at 30° see Links.
Can you do without?
Many go without electronic goods due to their social and environmental impacts but it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t use a washing machine or laundrette. Ethical Consumer asked two eco-conscious families why this is one mod con it’s hard to do without.
I didn’t have my own washing machine until I was 36. In my early 20s I used a council-run laundrette on the estate where I lived. It was an old-fashioned affair filled with huge steam rollers and presses. It wasn’t an unpleasant social experience. Most people would hang about there waiting for their washing, it was a place where people chatted and caught up.
Unfortunately that closed down when they knocked down the estate. With no other local laundrette and no money to buy a washing machine I washed all my clothes in the bath using a sink plunger to agitate them. So did many of my friends. Later, I came across a spin dryer which made the process somewhat easier.
Later I moved into a housing co-op. Unfortunately, the housing co-op didn’t have a public laundrette either – when we were setting up the co-op we talked about having one but couldn’t afford it in the end.
At some point a neighbour got a washing machine so several of us shared it. What was the need to have one in each house? But the access wasn’t as open as the public laundrette. It felt awkward and intrusive to put in washing or pick it up when the neighbour was at home.
Then I had a baby. The washing grew from just my stuff to the baby’s as well. Too much to do in the bath and too much to bother the neighbour with. My parents bought me a washing machine and I’ve still got the same one 10 years later.
I certainly don’t miss the bath and having a washing machine in your house is ultra convenient. But a beautiful laundrette close by would be convenient too.
Since I left home I’ve never had my own washing machine, I’ve pretty much always used a laundrette. Now I live in quite a remote area and it’s seven miles to the closest one. I take the washing there once a week on my way into work. Before our son was born I took it a lot less often.
Landmatters, the permaculture project where I live is busy putting the basic infrastructure in place and we are off grid. Washing stuff by hand would take up so much time – even just fetching the water would be really time consuming – and this would be detrimental to the development of the project as it means less time doing other things. We are wary of spending all our time on basic survival, we really want to progress the project.
At the moment we are building a bath house, complete with showers and a laundry. This will allow us to do some hand washing but it will be properly plumbed in so we won’t have to be fetching water. At some point we hope to get a bicycle-powered washing machine but this is a while off at the moment.
We have done some hand washing in the past. When our son was young I used to hand wash his nappies using a mangle (only ones soiled with pee, not number 2). I set the mangle up in the veg patch and used the diluted pee as a fertiliser.
EU Energy Label
Since 1996, all new washing machines have displayed an EU Energy Label which shows, on a scale of A-C for each of three areas: energy efficiency, wash performance and spin efficiency (not to be confused with tumble drying). Energy efficiency is most important when it comes to the environment. Better spin efficiency means drier clothes at the end of the cycle.
Manufacturers voluntarily phased out class D to G models several years ago. Today 98% of washing machines are A rated, meaning they use no more than 0.18 kWh energy per kilo of washing (kWh/kg). Most A rated machines use under 0.17kWh/kg, an improvement even since our last report on washing machines in 2007, when the majority were 0.19kWh/kg. The EU will ban B and C rated machines from 2010 and from 2013 only models rated A+ or above will be approved for sale.(19)
The A+ and A++ labels have been introduced by manufacturers to differentiate between A rated models. A+ rating means models use 0.17 kWh/kg or less, A++ 0.15 kWh/kg or under. LG claims the lowest energy usage of any model at 0.13 kWh/kg.
Water efficiency is not taken into consideration in the EU Energy Label. We’ve worked it out for the models on our Performance Table. This varies from 5.7 litres/kg for the best performers on the market to 11+ litres/kg for poor performers. For models not covered on our table you can work it out by dividing the water use per cycle by the load size, to give a measurement of litres per kg of load (both these figures are given in most product specifications).
However you can’t tell how much better one A+ or A++ rated machine is from another just by looking at the label. Our Performance Table goes some way to rectifying that by providing more detail.
The Energy Label also doesn’t take the quality of the product into account – how often it might need repairing or how long it’s likely to last before you need to buy a replacement. Which? magazine offers the best guide, rating the Miele W3740 and Miele W562 Prestige Plus 6 models as the best overall models – both scoring 74%. The LG F1402FDS5 - top of the environmental Performance Table – gets a Which? rating of 71%. The Gorenje models that appear on our table are not covered by the Which? report, but those that are receive comparatively low scores – 53% and 58%.
Energy Saving Recommended
Developed by the Energy Saving Trust, in conjunction with industry and the UK government, the Energy Saving Recommended (ESR) logo appears on a wide range of products including washing machines. It’s only given to those models that rate A or above for energy efficiency, wash performance and spin efficiency. Washing machines from the following brands in this report carry the label: AEG, Bosch, CDA Group, John Lewis, LG , Panasonic, Samsung, Siemens, Smeg and Zanussi.The ESR on-line database lists products meeting its criteria (see Links).
While some existing washing machines may be up to the standards necessary to carry the EU Eco-label, or Flower symbol, none are currently certified. The EU Eco-label verifies low environmental impacts throughout the product’s life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal, as well as high standards of performance.
Performance and Cost Table
The table below shows the top two models from each brand. The table is ordered from best to worst for Kg CO2 per year, or climate change impact, for the better model of each brand. ‘Kg CO2 per year’ is not part of the EU Energy Label. The ‘Energy kWh/kg’ column provides more detail than the EU Energy Label, while the ‘Water litres/kg’ helps show the most water efficient models. And the cost per year gives you an idea of the impact on your bills. The Retail Price is an average based on the three cheapest available prices we could find.
LG Electronics’ eco-friendly steam technology puts its A++ at the top of the table for green performance. It works by injecting steam directly into the washer to heat detergent to its ideal cleaning temperature much faster, this slashes washing times and the amount of water needed. The machine also has a ‘refresh cycle’ which uses steam alone, leaving clothes looking freshly ironed in 20 minutes, according to the manufacturers.
All the information is taken from www.sust-it.net unless stated otherwise.
LG and Samsung
LG may top the environmental performance table but it’s third from bottom on the ethiscore table. LG, along with Samsung, have featured in three recent reports.
1) Labour rights abuses in the Philippines
LG and Samsung were both mentioned in Dutch NGO SOMO’s recent report into labour conditions in the computer parts supply chain in the Philippines - “Configuring Labour Rights”.(28)
The report found that since 2006 some aspects of working conditions had become worse, largely due to the growth of subcontracting labour through agencies. Workers were found to be worse off in terms of wages and benefits, freedom to organise and working hours. The report also said that the economic crisis and rising unemployment might have a further negative effect on wages and organising unions. In the peak season overtime was high and workers regularly worked seven days per week, sometimes 12 hours a day. This was worst in the controversial Export Processing Zones, where unions and strike action is often banned.
2) Human rights in the DRC
The two companies were also mentioned in a 2008 report by Danish multinational monitors DanWatch, into the link between mobile phone components and mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).29 The mining industry in the DRC is widely linked to corruption and human and workers’ rights abuses. The report uncovered a supply chain linking LG and Samsung (as well as Motorola and Nokia) to a Belgian cobalt trading company operating in the war-torn DRC province of Katanga.
In 2005 it was estimated that more than 75% of all minerals leaving Katanga were illegally exported. Mining contracts in the DRC have been criticised for lacking transparency and failing to provide the Congolese people with economic benefits. Child labour was also reportedly used in the Katanga mining industry – with many children working as both diggers and porters. Working conditions in the industry are often very dangerous - even deadly and miners rarely earn a decent living wage. There have also been violent crackdowns on protests by small-scale miners and effected communities. According to SOMO cobalt mining in Katanga threatens local people’s basic rights to health, water and development and has led to a range of serious environmental hazards.
US-based project ENOUGH is running a campaign to email the 21 largest electronics companies, including LG and Samsung, to urge them to sign a Conflict Minerals Pledge and commit to ensuring that their products will be conflict free. ENOUGH say that companies that use minerals from the DRC in their products have an obligation to ensure that they are not helping finance armed groups or contributing to human rights abuses along the supply chain. ENOUGH call for companies to:
• trace the supply chain for all tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold in their products to verify their mines of origin; and
• conduct independently verifiable supply chain audits to document the routes taken, intermediaries involved, and transactions made from mine of origin to final product.
For more information see www.enoughproject.org
3) Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics
The Guide ranks the 18 top manufacturers of electronic consumer goods according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change. In the latest version LG plummets down the ranking from 4th place to 11th.This is due to backtracking on its commitment to have all its products free of PVC and BFRs by the end of 2010.
Samsung holds its position in 2nd place with a slightly reduced score due to failing to extend its take-back programme to non-OECD countries. Samsung scores relatively well on all the other criteria.
The other companies
Beko is owned by Koc Holdings which manufactures vehicles for the ‘defence’ industry.
Fagor gets a Company Ethos mark as it is part of the Mondragon workers co-operative.
Investor AB which owns the Electrolux, AEG, Zanussi and Tricity Bendix brands, also owns Saab Aerospace, which has developed technology for military aircraft. Another subsidiary Saab Bofors Dynamics AB makes guided weapons and supplies the military with ‘electronic warfare’ systems, surveillance, sighting and fire control systems, undersea defence systems, airborne electronic and mechanical equipment.
John Lewis comes fourth from the bottom of the table, despite many positive ethical policies. For example, it gets a Company Ethos mark because it is a co-op and workers get a share of the profits.
Retailers usually score poorly overall because of their retail activities. The ratings work best when comparing companies in the same market so bare in mind we’re not comparing like-with-like here. For instance the company loses marks for Waitrose not having a policy on GM animal feed, a question not relevant to the other companies rated here.
Miele is not involved in armaments manufacture but picks up a minor mark in the Arms & Military Supply category for being listed in a US Department of Defence document listing all contracts over $25,000 for 2007.
The Bosch and Siemens brands of domestic appliances are owned jointly by the two German companies, Robert Bosch GmbH and Siemens. Both were listed in Jane’s International Defence Directory 2007 as suppliers to the arms industry. There is a boycott of Siemens called for its involvement in selling telecoms equipment to Iran that could be used for surveillance.(36)
• Energy Saving Trust
• Sust It
• Guide to washing at 30°C
1 www.saveyour20percent.com. 4/11/09
2 www.greenyour.com/home/appliances/washing-machine 28/10/09
3 Mintel market report. Washing Machines 2008
4 www.greenyour.com/home/appliances/washing-machine 5/11/09
6 www.greenerchoices.org/globalwarmingsavecarbon.cfm 5/11/09
7 www.greenyour.com/home/appliances/washing-machine 27/10/09
8 www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/aug/05/ethicalliving.lifeandhealth1 6/11/09
10 2nd CECED Unilateral Commitment on reducing energy consumption of domestic washing machines (2002-2008) - European Committee of Household Appliance Manufacturers (CECED), 2005
11 www.endsreport.com/index.cfm?action=report.article&articleID=20659&q=washing%20machine&boolean_mode=all 6/11/09
16 www.endsreport.com 6/11/09
17 www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/corporate/Corporate-and-media-site/Media-centre/Energy-saving-statistics-and-facts/Washing-machines-tumble-dryers-dishwashers 6/11/09
18 Indicative Sustainable Product Performance Standards for Washing Machines & Tumble Dryers Commercial Buyers’ Guide 2007
19 www.endsreport.com/index.cfm?action=report.article&articleID=20659&q=washing%20machine&boolean_mode=all 6/11/09
20 http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/actonco2/home/campaigns/save-water/actions/choose-water-efficient-dishwashers-or-washing-machines-.html 6/11/09
24 Nano silver – a threat to soil, water and human health? Prepared by Dr Rye Senjen, Friends of the Earth Australia, March 2007
25 www.greenyour.com/home/appliances/washing-machine 27/10/09
26 www.endsreport.com/index.cfm?action=report.article&articleID=21357&q=washing%20machine&boolean_mode=all 6/11/09
28 SOMO report “Configuring Labour Rights: Labour Conditions in the Production of Computer Parts in the Philippines”
29 Danwatch, “Bad Connections: How your mobile phone is linked to abuse, fraud and unfair mining practices in DRC”
30 www.supergreenme.com/go-green-environment-eco:The-Environmentally-Friendly-Way-to-Wash-Your-Clothes 11/11/009
31 www.whitegoodshelp.co.uk/wordpress/washing-at-30-degrees/ 10/11/09
32 www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=178766 11/11/09 33 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6669551.stm 11/11/09
35 www.ami.ac.uk/courses/topics/0109_lct/ 11/11/09
36 Wall Street Journal 25th June 2009