Microwave suppliers upset by ‘unfair’ study into emissions and energy usage

A study that claims microwaves “could be as bad” for the environment as millions of cars has been met with opposition by commercial microwave suppliers, which claim it ignores other less efficient ways of cooking food.

Several brands confirmed they were meeting with the Microwave Technologies Association this week to consider a response to the report.

Although the study, which was carried out by The University of Manchester, appears to be largely directed at the consumer market, commercial oven suppliers are concerned the “bad press” could be damaging to the category overall.

The study claims that microwaves emit 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in the EU, which is “equivalent” to the annual emissions of 6.8 million cars. Researchers also said that microwaves across the EU consume an estimated 9.4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity every year, the same as the annual electricity generated by three large gas power plants.

But suppliers point out that these headline figures ignore the fact that the food has to be cooked somehow, nor are they put in any kind of context with regards to the performance of other traditional methods of cooking. Industry experts believe that microwave ovens have a much smaller carbon footprint than alternative cooking techniques.

According to the study published by The University of Manchester, 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.

Researchers used life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the impacts of microwaves, taking into account their manufacture, use and end-of-life waste management, and concluded that more efforts should be made to improve consumer awareness and behaviour to use appliances more efficiently.

They are concerned that the relative low cost and ease of manufacture of domestic ovens means that more electrical equipment is thrown away than ever before, with the typical lifespan of a device now seven years shorter than it was almost 20 years ago.

In the commercial segment, suppliers point out that professional microwaves are subject to the same end-of-life management processes and challenges as any other type of commercial cooking equipment.

The University of Manchester claims that its report is the “first ever comprehensive study” of the environmental impacts of microwaves, considering their whole life cycle, from ‘cradle to grave’.

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