There’s no denying it—“going green” is what’s in style. From reusable grocery bags to energy saving appliances, everywhere you look there’s a new product designed to help conserve the environment. But while the intention is good, some of these alternatives can actually result in very thing consumers are trying to avoid: harm to the environment. If you really want to be green, you should always think twice before jumping for that “energy-star” upgrade. Here’s why:
The whole point of “energy-star” appliances is that they use less energy, and are therefore easier on the environment. As it turns out, though, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Some argue that these new technologies actually use more energy than ever before, leaving a negative global impact. Others point out that energy-saving refrigerators and household appliances have grown in size in the last few decades because of the demand for larger freezer and refrigerator space. Manufacturing larger products costs more energy, both in your home and in transportation costs. But perhaps the most compelling reason against splurging on that new toaster-oven is the raw material involved in manufacturing it. If you buy it, you’ve just cost the environment twice the materials—those needed for your old toaster, which still works just fine, and what went into the new one.
If you really want to do the environment a favor, you should run your old appliances into the ground (this applies for cars, too!). On average, a household refrigerator can last anywhere from eight to ten years, and many smaller items last longer. If it breaks, consider taking it in to get a repair. Buying a new product just because it has an “energy star” rating is both expensive and counter-productive, especially if a working appliance still exists.
There are a number of ways to extend the lifetimes of your existing appliances. For example, don’t overload your washer, as that can put strain on the motor inside; you can find out how big a load should be from your user’s manual, or sometimes there’s a line inside the basin. For the dryer, always make sure the lint traps are clean and it is ventilated properly, so that motor will last longer, too. In some washer/dryer sets, the dryer is quite a big bigger than the washer. If this is the case, save up your wash loads and dry them all together. This will mean less strain on both motors, as the washer won’t have as much clothing at once and the dryer will run less often. If it’s nice outside, try hang-drying your clothes to avoid the extra wear altogether.
For your refrigerator, make sure you clean dust off the coils in the back, which can clog the air flow and force it to work overtime to keep things cool. If you have allergies, you may want to wear a mask for this—it’s amazing how many dust bunnies can get caught in there! Similarly, always check that your toaster, microwave and oven are clean. Not only can food particles catch on fire and ruin your appliances that way, but the energy that goes into re-heating those millions of tiny crumbs every time you use it can really slow things down. These simple and easy steps will help put a longer life on your appliances, and save you trouble later with repairs and new purchases.
When your old appliance is completely kaput and you have to buy a new one, stick to the same size or smaller to reduce energy costs. Feel free to opt for the one with the special sticker, as it probably is more efficient, but don’t buy something larger thinking it’ll even out. In the long run it will cost the same amount of energy, if not more. And as for that faithful old appliance, check the EPA website for frequently asked questions on how to dispose of it properly, to avoid groundwater contamination, ozone layer depletion, and mercury exposure in plants.
Ultimately, energy-saving appliances aren’t the cure-all to environmental problems. New technology doesn’t save the planet; we do. Increasing the longevity of household appliances will protect both your budget and the environment. Live above the “go green” hype, and refuse to buy anything new until you have to.
So, what is your opinion of energy efficient appliances?