The ecological impact of buying used appliances vs. new

It would be great – for us and our budgets – if refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and other high-end appliances never broke down. Unfortunately, that’s not the case – a fact that leads to plenty of questions for environmentally conscious homeowners. In many cases, going for used items is the best choice for the environment, but the very nature of appliances makes them a bit of a game-changer when it comes to going green. So when you’re faced with the task of replacing an appliance and want to make the most environmentally friendly choice possible, should you buy used or new?

Benefits of Buying New

Newer appliances offer certain environmental benefits that many older appliances cannot. For example, new refrigerators consume 75 percent less energy than those manufactured in the late 1970s. If you look for an Energy Star label, you’ll use even less energy as the refrigerator will offer better insulation, precise temperature control, more efficient compressors, and other features that help lighten its ecological footprint.

A new Energy Star dishwasher uses only about three-quarters of the energy used by those manufactured in the early 1990s and earlier. Because newer dishwashers are better at getting dishes clean, you won’t have to “wash them before you wash them,” meaning you’ll also conserve water.
A water heater is yet another example of an appliance with newer versions that are kinder to our planet. Because heating water accounts for around 14 percent of a typical home’s energy expenses, replacing an aging water heater can make a big difference – especially because when you consider that as water heaters age they function less and less efficiently.

Benefits of Buying Used

While new appliances typically tend to be more energy efficient than used ones, there are still many situations where buying used might be the better choice for both the environment and your wallet. For starters, used appliances are often also “new” – at least, in terms of the technology that’s been used to produce them. If you can find an appliance that’s no more than a few years old, in good condition, and with the Energy Star label, you can reap the same benefits of purchasing a brand new Energy Star model. The only added carbon footprint is the CO2 emitted in transporting the appliance to its new home.

An important point to consider is that every purchase of a used appliance reaps three major benefits.

1. Gives the used appliance new life
2. Keeps one more appliance from being adding to the pile at the landfill
3. Keeps a new appliance from being manufactured

This last point is especially important because the process of manufacturing a new appliance uses tremendous amounts of energy.

The environmental burden of buying used is limited to the cost of (and energy used by) transporting the item. Just be sure to buy a ‘newer’ used appliance. If the appliance is old enough to be an extremely poor steward of energy, these benefits may not be enough to offset the environmental benefits offered by energy-efficient new appliances.

Get the Most Environmentally Friendly Bang for Your Buck

Whether you decide buy new or used appliances, there are things you can do to ensure you cause the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

• Look for the Energy Star label. Many new and used appliances alike bear this label, which means they are more ecologically sound than those without the Energy Star rating. They use less energy and water, and they emit fewer greenhouse gases.
• Buy the right size. Buying a bigger water heater, air conditioner, or refrigerator than you need is a waste of both energy and money.
• If possible, choose natural gas appliances over electric. It’s more energy efficient to burn natural gas in your home than for power plants to burn it, convert it to electricity, and send it to you.

Conclusion

There are a lot of factors that play into deciding whether to purchase new or used appliances. One of the biggest points to keep in mind is that even if you decide not to purchase new, ‘newer’ used appliances are still better, especially if they come with an Energy Star label attached. This holds true whether you are purchasing a refrigerator, air conditioner, washing machine, or any other high-end appliance.

Sources:
http://www.energystar.gov/about/
http://www.nrdc.org/air/energy/fappl.asp

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