Why we should worry more about shoddy toasters than limp toast

ToasterThe Eurosceptic media recently ran a set of stories on the EU’s ecodesign rules, repeating claims by UKIP MEP David Coburn that “EU approved” toasters had ruined his breakfast, and suggesting that many “vital gadgets” could “face the chop”. In fact, toasters aren’t currently regulated under the EU’s Ecodesign Directive, so any difficulty Mr Coburn has had operating his toaster is because he bought a shoddy appliance, not because of the EU.

Ecodesign rules mean that manufacturers have to make more efficient products. The result is that, on average, British consumers are paying £158 a year less on their energy bills. You would never know this from the media coverage. The Daily Telegraph cites “public outcry” over the ban on inefficient vacuum cleaners. There was a media furore when the rule was introduced, but little subsequent coverage of the tests by Which? a year later, which found that the ban had made vacuum cleaners both cheaper to run and better at cleaning carpets. That’s right, higher suction from lower energy machines, because the higher standard had resulted in clever engineers coming up with new technical solutions.

There was a similar ‘outcry’ when the EU banned incandescent lightbulbs, even though this is saving consumers nearly £50 a year on their energy bills and has stimulated the development of high quality, cheap to run LED lighting. That Texan big state environmentalist, President Bush, enacted a similar ban six years earlier than the EU. Product efficiency rules – far from being a sign of EU imperialism – are standard policy in the US, Japan and China.

People are frustrated that appliances don’t last
We need more EU action on our appliances not less, because we now need protection from shoddy electrical appliances that breakdown after a few years and are too expensive to repair.  As someone who has been through at least three toasters and three kettles in a little over six years I’d put them at the top of the list for minimum standards of durability.

Surveys suggest I am not alone. A third of common appliances are failing to last as long as UK customers expect. The good news is that the EU has already worked out a way of fixing the problem.

In response to evidence that a third of vacuum cleaners were breaking before five years  it recently set durability standards which mean motors for vacuums now have to be able to last at least 500 hours, or roughly five years of normal use.  Green Alliance is now working with progressive business associations from Germany, the UK and Holland to make the case that the EU should apply this approach to all appliances, so everything we buy is durable and repairable as well as energy saving.

As for our tea and toast, a British veto would put paid to any (imaginary?) toast hating, continental breakfast partisans conspiring to ruin British breakfasts: remaining within the EU gives us the right to make the rules. We should now double down on ecodesign to make sure that Mr Coburn never has to buy a crap toaster again. We should ensure that we have crisp toast and hot tea from appliances that work.  Pushing the EU to abandon its plans to make products last longer and use less power is a recipe for more junk products. I would hate to waste one more day of my life hunting down appliances I shouldn’t need to replace.



  • How much money/energy do I save if I use a 1kW kettle, rather than a 3kW kettle to boil one litre of water?

    • Excellent question! 1 litre of water requires the approximately same amount of energy to bring to a boil from a 1kW kettle as a 3kW kettle. This is because kilowatts are a measure of the rate at which energy is used, not the total energy required. There’s an excellent post by David Mackay on how to boil water efficiently if you are interested: http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/hotwater/

      The wider point is that ecodesign requirements aren’t just about energy in use – they’re about total environmental impact. For kettles, clear markings about how much water is going to be boiled, and requirements for kettle durability (to make sure they don’t break so often) would be good options. Both are identified in the EU’s initial study of options for kettles: http://www.ecodesign-wp3.eu/sites/default/files/Ecodesign%20WP3_Draft%20Task%204%20Report_15102014.pdf

      (incidentally, I’m sure it was unintended, but your question does rather resemble ‘which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?’)

      • Thanks for that report.

        Whereas the idea might be good (Kettle lasts longer), I suppose the EU could also legislate how long my underwear is supposed to last.

        The point about kettles is 100% electric energy is changed into thermal energy and heats the water. Somehow the Deloitte management consultants working for the EU here seem to have identified 25% savings in that, which has so far eluded the kettle manufacturers (or physicists, I guess) from which they calculate the enormous savings of at least 43PJ. Over 500m Europeans, that is about 24 kWh per person.

        That is about the biggest energy saving they have identified,in all the gadgets they are looking at! And they have been looking at this for 4 years!

        Now, a one off saving (not per year!) of 24 kWh compared to the annual energy requirement of 45,625 KWh (ref: MaKay 125 KwHs per day per person) is, to be frank, bugger all! Even if it were true!

        Or, even if the EU Deloitte consultant were miraculously able to suspense with any laws of thermodynamics and could realise these savings, I guess, given that this is definitely a regulation worth voting BREXIT for!

        (I will still be voting remain – despite all that crap!)

        It is an employment programme for Deloitte consultants who have produced a pretty crap report.

  • Pingback: Yesterday’s EU ruling on products is a triumph for British consumer rights | green alliance blog

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