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Assessment of the Environmental

Impact of Household Appliances

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by Reinhard Otto, Arno Ruminy and Herbert Mrotze, !SH !osch und Siemens Haus"er#te $mbH
The following reveals the results of a life-cycle assessment (LCA) on dishwashers, washing
machines, dryers, and refrigerators. The different factors responsible for the environmental
impact are discussed.
igure !. "evelopment of #nergy and $ater Consumption of
%&' Appliances
Over the years, appliance manufacturers have been successful in saving energy and the
conservation of resources. As an example, Figure 1 illustrates the savings in energy and water
consumption of products manufactured by BS Bosch und Siemens ausger!te "mb. For
refrigerators, energy consumption decreased by more than #$ percent. For dishwashers and
washing machines, the savings in energy consumption exceed %$ percent. &he water
consumption of front'loader washing machines has been reduced from %$ ()*g in 1+#$ to 1%.,
()*g in 1++$ to #.- ()*g today.
&he new .uropean .co'/esign Framewor*'/irective 0-$$1)%-).23 will re4uire an assessment
of all significant environmental aspects of energy'using products. &o identify the significance, it
is necessary to appraise the entire life cycle of the product. &he life'cycle observation presented
here provides a means of identifying and measuring significant environmental aspects. By
loo*ing at the complete life cycle, the best trade'offs between different environmental impacts
caused by production, the use phase, and recycling can be estimated.
Table !. &pecification of Assessed (roducts
&he main parameters that were ta*en into account include primary energy, material depletion,
water consumption, and global warming potential 0"563. .co'indicators beyond this scope,
such as o7one depletion potential 0O/63 or heavy metals regulation schemes, are already in
existence. 8ecent studies demonstrated that these impact parameters were not relevant for the
products under assessment 91:. According to the ;ontreal 6rotocol and the .uropean 8egulation
0-$%#)-$$$).23, o7one'depleting substances are banned in appliance products. <n compliance
with the .uropean 8oS legislation 0/irective -$$1)+1).23, a phase'out of certain heavy metals
in the electronics will be achieved by =uly 1, -$$,.
&he assessment included a broad range of the most widely used large appliances, including
dishwashers, washers, dryers, and refrigerators. 2oo*ing units with their multifaceted technology
and wide scope of consumer behavior are not considered in this study. &he appliances chosen for
the assessment are those typically found in the .uropean mar*et and belong to a segment with
high sales figures. &able 1 summari7es the specification of the selected products.
&he full cradle to grave life cycle was covered 0see Figure -3. <n the production period, the bill of
materials, transport of materials and consumption of resources by BS and suppliers were
evaluated. &he material assessment included +> percent of the total mass of the appliances. &he
second phase is transport to the customer, covering the mode of transport, distance and load as its
input parameters. &hroughout a period of 1$ to -$ years of usage by the customer, electrical
energy, water and chemicals are consumed. After that, the appliances become waste. &hey are
collected from the households and treated. &he treatment process separates the waste from
appliances into different material flows for reuse, recycling, energy recovery, or disposal.
&he first and most time'consuming step in an (2A is the compilation of the bill of materials.
&hus, this aspect is given much attention. For the assessment of refrigerators and dishwashers,
appliances were dismantled and weighed, yielding a list of components with the weights of all
parts, a material description and composition details. For dryers and washing machines, a
different approach was adopted. &he products were only present as prototypes, so the bill of
materials had to be listed from a computer'aided design 02A/3 model. &he latter approach
appears to be slightly less accurate? however, it is a less time'consuming method that can be
reali7ed in the development state.
For each material, the environmental parameters per *g were recorded in a list.
&hese @eco'profilesA were provided by (ife 2ycle Simulation "mb and were
based on commercially available life'cycle databases and their calculations.
Several scenarios with different intensities of use were investigated. For all
appliances evaluated, the use phase dominated the life'cycle impact, with a
proportion of more than +$ percent. 6roduction represented less than > percent of
the overall environmental burden. (ogistics 0i.e., transport from appliance producer to customer3
and recycling are not displayed in Figure % because they amounted to less than 1 percent. For the
use phases, a lifetime of 11 years was assumed. &he number of cycles per year was estimated at
%$$ for dishwashers, -,$ for washing machines and -$$ for dryers.
&he energy demand for production is between B,%$$ ;= and ,,1$$ ;= for the different
appliances. 6lastics and metals are the main materials of the products. Figure B shows the
influence of production factors on the chosen set of parameters.
&he values are calculated for a washing machine manufactured in "ermany. &he parameters of
fossil and renewable energy are based on a "erman energy mix. Con'renewable energy resources
are fossil fuels such as coal, gas or oil. Con'renewable material resources are metal ores and
mining residue. @5aterA incorporates cooling water for energy generation and process water.
"56 is the combined global warming potential from the emission of carbon dioxide and volatile
organic compounds 0DO23 into the atmosphere. &a*e a washing machine as an example, where
metals contribute almost 1$ percent of the total impact. &he impact of materials used in total
adds up to >$ percent. &he production processes at BS and supplier factories re4uire
approximately -$ percent of the resources.
For the dishwasher life cycle, the assessment showed the dominance of the use phase with +1
percent of the total environmental burden. A surprising result of the study was the ecological
effect of 1 *g of cotton fleece used for noise insulation in dishwashers. 2ontrary to the common
belief that natural fabrics are environmentally friendly, the water consumption involved in cotton
irrigation 01-,$$$ ()*g cotton3 dominates water usage in the production process.
<n addition to the dishwasher, a washing machine was assessed. Again, the use phase dominates
the overall life'cycle impact? however, due to complex design, more resources are necessary for
production than for any other appliance.
&he other extreme is the dryer. <n this case, +# percent of total primary energy is consumed
during the use phase. <n a scenario with -$$ drying cycles per year, the dryer needs 1>$ "= of
primary energy over a period of 11 years.
Of all the appliances considered, refrigerators demonstrate the lowest lifetime energy
consumption. &his is a surprising result, which demonstrates the success of environmental
friendly product design. 0&he tremendous savings in energy consumption over the last decade are
evident in Figure 1.3 6roblematic refrigerants and blowing agents such as chlorofluorocarbons
igure +.
,nput and
of LCA Life-
02F2s3 could be replaced by non o7one'depleting substances, and in this regard, the refrigerator
is a model appliance, demonstrating the ecological design of modern white goods. <ntelligent
features such as auto'defrost and active warning systems combine environment'friendly
technology with user convenience.
Another interesting result concerns the water consumption of washing machines and
dishwashers. <n Figure 1, the water used in the washing process and the water for energy supply
are compared. Obviously, cooling water for energy supply is of the same magnitude as the
process water for washing. <n dishwashers, the amount needed for the supply of electrical energy
is more than twice the volume of process water. Of course, these values should be compared with
caution, since cooling water for energy supply is usually ta*en from surface water, while
households use specially treated drin*ing water.
igure -. (rimary #nergy Consumption in )ain Life-Cycle
Substitution of Materials in Production
Figure , shows the primary energy demand per *g for typical materials. ;aEor fractions of the
energy used are consumed in the production of aluminum and certain die'casting plastics.
(oo*ing at the energy need for aluminum and polyamide production, it might be expected that
potential existed for minimi7ing cumulated life'cycle energy needs by substituting these
materials. owever, the aluminum content of a dishwasher, for example, is less than 1 percent.
/ie'casting plastic parts consume more energy in production, but save energy in the use phase.
&he reason for this is better forming technology for plastics compared to the alternative of
stainless'steel sheets. An (2A conducted by BASF, Basell and BS showed that the savings
more than compensate for the energy investments in the production phase. 9-:
.nergy consumption for most of the materials is between 1$ ;=)*g and 1$$ ;=)*g. &hat means,
for example, that if 1 *g polypropylene was replaced by stainless steel, the savings in primary
energy would be -1 ;=, a negligible figure compared to the data in Figure %. Some basic
materials such as sand and roc* salt need only a minimum of energy, but of course, cannot be
used for supporting parts. 2otton is a special case in that it shows the limits of pure energy
assessment, because here, the irrigation water is the maEor environmental factor.
<n summary, the use of alternative materials should be considered from the technological
perspective to minimi7e resource allocation during the use phase. &he potential savings from
material substitution as such are secondary.
Energy Consumption
.nergy supply is fundamental for the environmental impact of energy'using products such as
home appliances. For this reason, the life'cycle impact of a refrigerator used in different
.uropean countries was calculated 0see Figure #3. "ermany, whose energy supply originates
mainly from coal and nuclear power plants, is compared to France 0mostly nuclear power3 and
Sweden 0hydro and nuclear power3. &he measured impact parameters are fossil and renewable
primary energy, non'renewable energy and material resources, cooling water, and "56. &o ta*e
one example, the refrigerator operated in France or Sweden causes only -$ percent or less of the
global warming produced by its precise counterpart in "ermany.
Water Consumption
5ashing machines and dishwashers naturally use water for the cleaning process. &he process
water in dishwashers was reduced by >$ percent from ,$ ( in 1+,1 to 1B ( in -$$1. <n washing
machines, this process water was reduced by #$ percent throughout the last %$ years. 5ith
todayFs washing process, no maEor decrease seems possible in the future. &he reasons are the
physical necessities of washing.
.xperience shows that consumers will not tolerate poor washing results related to minimum
water use. owever, an additional effect is that users tend to use too much detergent, leading to a
higher demand for water to rinse the fabric. &his fact is considered in the development of new
intelligent and efficient prototypes. <n state'of'the'art washing machines, sensors monitor the
washing process to *eep the use of energy, water and detergent to a minimum. &he electronics
control the washing process to achieve the best cleaning results with the lowest water and energy
consumption. A display can provide the user with information if the maximum weight is reached
and can indicate how much detergent should be added.
Consumer Behavior and General Conditions
2onsumer habits play an increasing role in the use of highly optimi7ed products. Appropriate
handling has benefits for the environment as well as the household budget. .vents li*e the
@A*tionstag Cachhaltiges 5aschen,A sponsored by the "erman ;inistry of the .nvironment,
promote sustainable use and illustrate the benefits of state'of'the'art eco'features. For appliances
older than 1$ years, an economical and ecological gain can be reali7ed by replacement with a
new product 9%'1:. (oo*ing at the installed base of household appliances, early replacement may
contribute significantly to the protection of resources. For dishwashers, the promotion of
machine dishwashing instead of washing dishes by hand would lead to significant savings in
energy and water consumption 9,:.
5hile usage may be influenced by educational advertising aimed at the general public, some
technical parameters are connected with the installation site. Factors such as hard water may lead
to 1$ percent higher detergent consumption. <n small *itchens, refrigerators are sometimes
placed next to the oven or dishwasher, leading to higher energy consumption for cooling
purposes. Some appliances, such as dryers or dishwashers, may be operated overnight, using
low'rate electricity, to save primary energy. 6rimary energy use can further be decreased if a
warm water tub for the washing machine is available.
igure .. "istribution of (arameters
*elating to actors of $ashing )achine
&he use phase dominates the overall life'cycle impact of large appliances with a proportion of
more than +$ percent. 2ompared to 1++$, contemporary appliances consume between %$ percent
0washing3 and #$ percent 0refrigeration3 less electric energy. &he reduction in the consumption
figures has a direct influence on the life'cycle impact. &he potential for further reduction through
design options seems limited given current technology. /ue to the importance of the use phase,
further efforts for improvements should be investigated.
&he education of consumers, the promotion of existing environmentally friendly features and
replacement of old, non'energy'efficient appliances provide plenty of potential for reducing the
overall environmental impact. State'of'the'art appliances use sensor technology for process
control and user guidance to achieve optimi7ed consumption of energy and resources.
Furthermore, the way electric energy is generated in different regions has a large influence on the
life cycleFs environmental impact of energy'using products. &his has to be *ept in mind when
using (2A as a method for determining the environmental impact of energy'using products.
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9%: <. 8uedenauer, et al.H'.fficiency Analysis of 5ashing ;achines,A Oe*o'<nstitut e.D.?
Freiburg -$$B.
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8eplacement of /omestic Appliances,A Oe*o'<nstitut e.D, Freiburg -$$1.
91: K.A. orieH @(ife 2ycle Optimi7ation of ousehold 8efrigerator'Free7er 8eplacement,A
2enter for Sustainable
Systems, Jniv. of ;ichigan 8eport Co. 2SS$B'1%.
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About the Authors
8einhard Otto Eoined BS Bosch und Siemens ausger!te "mb in -$$1. e is currently a
management trainee in .ngineering. Otto studied physics at umboldt Jniversitaet 7u Berlin and
at the Jniversity of &oronto.
/r. erbert ;rot7e* is director of 2orporate /epartment for .nvironmental 6rotection ealth
and Safety at BS Bosch and Siemens ausger!te "mb. e has a 6h./. in 2hemistry from the
Jniversity of amburg and completed post'doctorate studies at the Jniversity of 2alifornia, J.S.
/r. Arno 8uminy is environmental protection manager at BS Bosch and Siemens ausger!te
"mb. Since graduating with a /octor rerum naturae 0/r. rer. nat.3 in 2hemistry from the
&echnical Jniversity in ;unich, "ermany. e has wor*ed in the field of industrial
environmental protection for -$ years.