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Energy Efficient vs. Green Friendly

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

Appliance Obsolescence
source: Ed Crowle

Want to know how to help keep your appliances running longer? I have the perfect solutions:

1. Hand wash your dishes and use your dishwasher as a great big drying rack – it will never stop running or do a poor job cleaning your dishes that way, and you’ll also save a ton on dishwasher detergent!

2. Vacuum as little as possible. Hire children to pick up fuzz and crumbs from the floor every few weeks. Your vacuum won’t need its belts changed for years.

3. Wear your clothes at least five times before washing them. Turn kids’ stuff inside out or pretend the food stains are just from breakfast that day. Your washer and dryer will thank you!

4. Avoid the oven. Try not to make anything other than salads from scratch. Eating out and using someone else’s oven is the best way to beat the fact that appliances are made to break within 5-10 years nowadays.


You think there’s a better way to keep your large appliances out of the landfill?

Unfortunately, the new government regulations for energy efficiency cause many appliances’ life spans to be shortened. Because large appliances have to use less energy and resources to do the same job, the parts often need to be lighter – made of plastic, which means weaker.

What’s better, drawing more power to run a dishwasher, or using 1-2 gallons per load and yet tossing it in a landfill after five years instead of twenty to thirty?

When we shopped for a dishwasher recently, the appliance salesman at Sears gave his products 5-7 years of life, maybe ten.

The appliance repairman who shared this easy dishwasher deep clean tip says anything you buy today has ten years life expectancy, tops.

My parents’ dishwasher is older than me, and their refrigerator lasted at least twenty years. I have seen plenty of gas-powered refrigerators that are as old as my parents that still work!

So why are today’s appliances so much less robust?

Appliance Obsolescence
source: USDA

1. It’s the consumer’s fault. Plastic gears (other parts) are cheaper to make than metal gears, and consumers drive economics waving the “cheaper is better” banner.

2. It’s the government’s fault. Energy Star laws are asking appliances to do things they aren’t designed to do and work too hard, so they play out faster. Washing dishes with less than a gallon of water makes all the parts work harder. Lighter weight parts may also be driven by Energy Star laws, and plastic breaks more easily than metal.

3. It’s big business’s fault. When machines break, people buy new ones. You’ve heard of “planned obsolescence,” the idea that companies are purposely making appliances with shorter life spans so that they get repeat customers doing their “repeat purchase” more quickly.

4. It’s technology’s fault. I see this most clearly in cars, which no one can fix anymore without a special computer system. Because there are more computer parts in many appliances, it means that if they have a problem, an entire (expensive) panel often needs to be replaced. It’s often a better financial option to simply replace the entire appliance, even though it’s clearly a stab in the back to the environment.

5. It’s your fault. Many people also expect too much of their appliances and further shorten their life span, like putting big chunks of food in the dishwasher or running front loading washing machines incorrectly.

Ultimately, no matter who your favorite villain is, the end of the story is that this costs more for the consumer because we’re replacing our appliances 2-3 times more often than previous generations, and the toll on the landfills cannot be underestimated.

Sometimes I think about all the dishwashers in landfills when I take extra time to trek a 2×2-inch piece of paper down the stairs to the recycle bin rather than throwing it away in my bedroom.

It’s ironic, isn’t it?

Now, if only there were some solutions, this post would have even more of a point. Perhaps the comments will be even more helpful than the part I get to write – I love it when that happens.

What can we do to encourage businesses to make appliances truly more environmentally friendly, not just energy efficient?

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.