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Replacement vs repair of washing machines from an environmental perspective

Replacement vs repair of washing machines from an environmental perspective

how sustainable is…

This study investigated the environmental benefits of keeping an existing washing machine versus replacing it with a new, more efficient one. The study considers the following environmental impact categories:

The study was conducted in the UK and is thus based on UK washing machine models and efficiency ratings (such as C for a comparatively inefficient machine and A++ for the most efficient washing machine on the market).

Firstly, the study finds that over the entire life of a washing machine, from manufacture, to use and disposal, the use phase has by far the biggest impact on the environment. In other words, the manufacturing of a washing machine and also its disposal at the end of its useful life, have a relatively minor impact on the environment.

The study suggests further that it depends on how inefficient the existing washing machine is compared to the potential new (more efficient) one, as to whether there are environmental benefits from replacing it. In other words, the study suggests that it is worth replacing an old, inefficient (e.g. C rated) machine with the most efficient (e.g. A++ rated) model available on the market. However, the study also suggests that replacing an inefficient machine (e.g. C rated) with a newer machine, which is not significantly more efficient (e.g. A rated), will have a detrimental effect on the environment overall. I.e. from an environmental perspective, it would be better to keep (and if necessary repair) a C rated machine than replacing it with an A rated machine.

Link to full report

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what can I do to reduce my environmental footprint?

The study is based on UK washing machine ratings which will not apply in many other countries. However, the findings in general are still applicable universally: To minimise the impact on the environment of washing your clothes, the study suggests that:

  • unless you have a very old washing machine, it is better for the environment if you keep it running than replacing it with a newish one, unless you can afford the latest, most efficient model
  • if you have a very old, inefficient washing machine, you reduce the impact on the environment, if you dispose of it and buy a new, efficient model
  • when you do buy a washing machine, whether you are in the market for a new model or for a second hand machine, buy not only an efficient one but also one that lasts.

You may also be interested in reading this study on the environmental footprint of clothes washing and drying.

Report Rating: 3 out of 3

Report Published: December 2010

Country: UK

Author(s): Environmental Resources Management Limited

Publisher: Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP)

Funder: WRAP

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, washing, detergent, clothes, garments, washing machine, refurbish, replace, maintain, repair, buy new

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