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EU Microwaves Use as Much Energy as 7 Million Cars, Study Shows

Microwaves are an easy to way to heat up leftovers but each time you hit the start button you might also be cooking the planet, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Manchester.

The team found that the hundreds of millions of microwaves across the European Union, including the UK, emit as much carbon as 7 million cars annually.

There are around 30 million cars in the UK alone, so cars are still vastly more damaging to the environment than microwaves.

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But the study shows how even seemingly innocuous items have an environmental impact, according to the Guardian.

The total electricity consumption of microwaves in the EU requires the output of three large gas power plants, according to the study.  

The researchers say that because microwaves are cheap, convenient, and perceived as a status items, they’ve become the most popular type of oven in the EU. Sales are expected to reach 135 million a year by the end of the decade, and the environmental impact will increase in tandem.

There are several ways to lower the ongoing environmental impact, the researchers argue.

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“Efforts to reduce consumption should focus on improving consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently,” the study says. “For example, electricity consumption by microwaves can be reduced by adjusting the time of cooking to the type of food.”

By simply unplugging a microwave when it’s not being used, energy use decreases, the researchers note. Although the time function of microwaves is useful, they say that it’s not worth the needed energy.

Further, consumers can hold onto microwaves for longer. The average lifespan of a microwave has dropped by around seven years since the 1990s, the study notes.

That’s largely because new, improved microwaves are coming out more regularly and people opt to upgrade. Holding onto microwaves for a few more years, however, can cut down on electronic and other forms waste.

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“Discarded electrical equipment, such as microwaves, is one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide,” said Dr Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, who worked on the study, in a press release.

Manufacturers also have a role to play in reducing this environmental impact, the authors say.

Microwaves can be made more energy efficient and can have instructions or features that more clearly spell out how to conserve energy with each use.  

Further, the machines can be made with more sustainable materials so that waste management is less of a problem.

Ultimately, the study is another reminder that households are responsible for an enormous amount of global emissions. Light bulbs, televisions, refrigerators, and air conditioners demand a lot of electricity and heating during winter months gobbles up additional energy.

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For homes that lack efficient appliances and amenities, electricity and heating bills can be far higher than what they should be and the environmental impact will be similarly outsized.

On the other hand, incorporating efficiency measures is both simple and cost-effective. Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for investments in energy efficiency you can take action on this issue here.

For example, improved insulation and atmospheric water heaters can cut down on heating bills and smart appliances and LED light bulbs can greatly reduce electricity consumption.

Microwaves are indispensable to many people and they actually use less energy than other kinds of ovens. The team at Manchester said they aren’t trying to discourage their use — they’re just trying to make sure people realize heating up instant ramen has planetary consequences.