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Researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK have carried out the first-ever comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of microwaves, considering their whole life cycle, from 'cradle to grave'.
Microwaves account for the largest percentage of sales of all type of ovens in the European Union (EU), with numbers set to reach nearly 135 million by 2020. Despite this, the scale of their impacts on the environment was not known until now.
The study used life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the impacts of microwaves, taking into account their manufacture, use and end-of-life waste management.
Altogether, the research team investigated 12 different environmental factors, including climate change, depletion of natural resources and ecological toxicity.
The research shows that the main environmental 'hotspots' are materials used to manufacture the microwaves, the manufacturing process and end-of-life waste management.
For example, the manufacturing process alone contributes more than 20 per cent to depletion of natural resources and to climate change.
However, it is electricity consumption by microwaves that have the biggest impact on the environment, taking into account its whole life cycle, from the production of fuels to generation of electricity.
The study found that, on average, an individual microwave uses 573-kilowatt-hour of electricity over its lifetime of eight years.
That is equivalent to the electricity consumed by a seven watt LED light bulb, left on continuously for almost nine years.
Due to their relatively low cost and ease of manufacture, consumers are throwing more electrical and electronic (EE) equipment away than ever before, including microwaves.
"Rapid technological developments and falling prices are driving the purchase of electrical and electronic appliances in Europe," said Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, from the University of Manchester.
"Consumers now tend to buy new appliances before the existing ones reach the end of their useful life as electronic goods have become fashionable and 'status' items," he said.