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Q: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things ( Answered,   7 Comments )
Subject: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
Category: Science
Asked by: noelsemple1-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 21 Nov 2006 18:30 PST
Expires: 21 Dec 2006 18:30 PST
Question ID: 784672
I've got an old refrigerator and an old car, and I feel guilty about
the environmental consequences of using them.  But would replacing
them with newer models necessarily be the right thing to do?  What
about the environmental impacts of manufacturing the new items?  I
know how much energy the existing machines use and what emissions they
create.  But how do I assess the energy and emissions involved in
manufacturing new ones, in order to compare the two impacts? Or are
they negligible by comparison to the environmental cost of the status
quo? Many thanks for your help.

Clarification of Question by noelsemple1-ga on 21 Nov 2006 18:33 PST
Of course I'll end up replacing them eventually, so I guess what I
really need to know is whether there's some environmental benefit to
using them until the day they break which outweighs the increased
emissions they'll create between now and then.
Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
Answered By: hedgie-ga on 21 Nov 2006 23:21 PST
Good question noelsemple1-ga,

 Energy cost is energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and
dispose of a vehicle from initial concept to scrappage.

energy cost of a new car:

industry average of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2005 was $2.28
cents per mile, the Hummer H3 (among most SUVs) was only $1.949 cents
per mile. That figure is also lower than all currently offered hybrids
and Honda Civics at $2.42 per mile.

energy cost of a new refrigerator:
"If you have an older refrigerator - particularly one that is more
than ten years old - it may be a good idea to recycle your old
refrigerator and replace it with a new refrigerator that complies with
current energy efficiency standards."

 More exact estimate can be obtained here:

Cost of a new appliance is often a rough guide
 of the cobined energy and material cost. 

Improvments in efficiency in last 10 years are significant:

Estimated Cost of Operating

APPLIANCE	YEARLY COST1972 (or older)          Today
Refrigerato		$132			$102
Freezer			$111 			$73
Room Air Conditioner	$ 98			 $ 57

One updating most houesholds is tu switch to CFL lighting
Todays CFLs are quiet, instant and give steady light (without flicker).
They are available in variety of types (day-light, warm, ...)

Thermal insulation is next thing to check

Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: netcruiser-ga on 22 Nov 2006 04:10 PST
Yes, but we're still avoiding the question! 
I have yet to see a credible authority on the environmental costs of
CPL lights - the energy cost of manufacturing them, and the
environmental damage of these complex bits of technology, with toxic
heavy metals and non-biodegradable components ending up in landfill.
I suspect a good ol' tungsten filament light globe made of glass,
brass and a tiny bit of wire might not do as much damage, even taking
into consideration its greater electricity consumption, and shorter
Just hoping to kick this interesting discussion along ...
Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: netcruiser-ga on 22 Nov 2006 04:13 PST
Sorry, that's CFL lighting - not CPL ;-)))
Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: keystroke-ga on 22 Nov 2006 07:02 PST

Compact fluorescents are so much more energy-efficient that I don't
even think there's a question on this issue.

They last for seven years, so the energy and environmental costs of
manufacturing them would be nothing compared to the numerous tungsten
bulbs they would replace and the energy that they would save.  Fewer
lightbulbs used=fewer lightbulbs in the landfill.  There is so much
electricity saved, which means less pollution and emissions in the air
from creating the energy.

Any concerns about taking them to the landfill can be assuaged by recycling them.

"Note that coal power plants are the single largest source of mercury
emissions into the environment. According to the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), (when coal power is used) the mercury
released from powering an incandescent bulb for five years exceeds the
sum of the mercury released by powering a comparably luminous CFL for
the same period and the mercury contained in the lamp."
Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: hedgie-ga on 22 Nov 2006 08:44 PST

we are not avoiding it. Some numbers are in this search from year 2002

Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: netcruiser-ga on 26 Nov 2006 03:00 PST
Hi Keystroke and Hedgie, 

Thanks Hedgie for pointing me to previous discussion on this topic - I
hadn't seen that, and I'm glad I'm not the first to raise this

Nevertheless, my gut-feel is that there may be faulty logic in this discussion. 

Good environmental awareness means we need to be impeccable in our
ethics and reasoning.

Two concepts to keep in mind to avoid the "end justifies the means"
wishful thinking (which will come back to bite):

1. Selective focus

CFL lighting uses less energy (no argument there), so let's see what
facts we can dish up that will convince people to switch...

Thing is, I can't find any decent facts that quantify environmental cost. 

In your 2002 answer, you say:

'The environmental cost is not always exactly measured by the
purchasing cost, since some environmental loads do not show in the
    For example, CF lights may contain mercury - a  heavy metal, which
we want to avoid using and throwing out, even if we, as consumers, do
not immediately pay for that. But it is a good starting point.'

There's more serious pollutants than "may contain mercury" (at 275
million CFL in USA @ 4 mg mercury each, that's 1,100 kg's of mercury)-
how about toxic heavy metals like beryllium, strontium, cadmium,
europium, bismuth etc, used in the phosphor layer inside the tube.

Check out the cocktails at:

Then we've got the high-voltage ballast circuitry, with all its
epoxied components in every CFL. Does anyone know what these things
are made of????

Tried "recycling" all that stuff properly? Nice idea, but I doubt
anyone is actually doing it, I'll bet it's expensive and energy

That's why I feel intuitively far more comfortable "recycling" 10
conventional lo-tech light globes for every CFL "chemical bomb".

A "good starting point"? Sorry - I don't see that. 

2. Environmental (true) cost

The example of Western Power saving heaps of $ (different from healing
our environment), is simply some blood-sucking bean-counter has worked
out that transferring costs to buying CFL's made in China by slave
labour and excluding environmental cost burdens will increase
shareholder returns.

No substantive claims about net environmental benefit there ...

(US electricity is far more realistically priced nowadays in
environmental cost terms, so everyone's looking for cute alternatives
... if they can be dressed up as "energy saving", then that's good

So when we march into Ikea to buy our $ 1.49 Chinese manufactured
CFL's, are we responsible for the environmental irresponsibility
involved in their manufacture?

I suggest we should be drawing attention to Ikea's exploitative
pricing - instead we see them as environmental heroes.

In summary, with CFLs I suspect the concealed environmental costs
exceed the energy savings, and I'm having trouble finding solid data
either way.

Bit complicated, and I'd be delighted to be proven wrong (I've got
half the lights in my house changed to CFL), but I'm sure you get the
picture ...
Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: hedgie-ga on 26 Nov 2006 05:15 PST
You make a good argument and these are just a few comments,
 (not a $200 answer)

1) Not just beancounters for IKEA are saying this:

Says David Goldstein, a PhD physicist, MacArthur "genius" fellow, and
senior energy scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council:
"This could be just what the world's been waiting for, for the last 20

Steven Hamburg is an associate professor at Brown University, an
expert on energy consumption and global warming who helped Wal-Mart
think through the spiral-bulb strategy. "Can they change the game?
Think how many games Wal-Mart has changed. There's no reason they
can't change this game."

  The China as a sweatshop - that may be something from the sixtes

 China is now the seventh largest
economy in the world after the United States,
Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom,
and Italy. Furthermore, it is estimated that
China?s economy will overtake the U.K. and
Italy by the end of the current five-year plan

 compact fluorescent is expensive and complicated, compared with
incandescents, in part because of the electronic controls each bulb
contains, and in part because swirls remain partly handcrafted. To
make each spiral, a Chinese worker wearing gloves takes a tube of
glass, holds it over an open flame, then wraps the heat-softened tube
around a metal form. The job requires a deft touch so the tube doesn't
become flattened while getting its spiral shape.

it will be automatized  soon

"For us," says Bolsinger, "the opportunity is to sell enough of them,
to get down the [manufacturing] cost curve. We're still pretty early
in the learning curve." Greater automation would allow GE to both
continue to reduce the price of swirls and keep a margin that softens
the blow to the incandescent side of the business.

Compact fluorescent lights do contain trace amounts
(4mg) of mercury vapor. Standard incandescent bulbs do
not contain any mercury. Even so, CFLs are safer and
cleaner than incandescents:
CFLs do not emit mercury when they?re turned on and
off because the mercury is sealed in the bulb?s vacuum.
CFLs do not emit mercury when they?re properly stored,
handled and installed.
CFLs do not emit mercury when they?re burned out
because much of the mercury has bonded with the
phosphor coating inside.
CFLs are responsible for fewer power plant mercury
emissions because they require less energy.

Berno Rahman, the Dutch company's European marketing manager, says
that only 5% of the total energy used in the lifetime of a CFL bulb
occurs during its manufacture.

Personal opinion 
   Quite frankly, I believe (not without reasons) that enviromental danger,
more serious than global warming,
 is an ecological disaster called war.  

   In spite of recent election results, I do not see much relaxation
in drive for control of the space, of all the fossil resources, new
bases in EU and Asia, attempt to transform NATO into a tool of 
current US foreign policy (see Afganistan, Lebanon ..)

So, if I would be in the  US, I would first make sure that my congressman
knows that if it continues, we may have a WWIII , either next week, or
in twenty years.
Than I would change the rest of bulbs, even without the exact calcuation
of the energy content. I would use rest of the time to educate myself about 
nergy options and politics.

Subject: Re: Environmental Costs and Benefits of Replacing Old and Inefficient Things
From: hedgie-ga on 26 Nov 2006 05:22 PST
correcting typo

nergy options

should be 

energy options.

So in conclusion:
When replacing 
Old and Inefficient Things 

let's not forget the presidential elections on 2008.

Compare just cost of Iraq war so far, even ignoring the human cost,
to how much benefit US, UK and rest of world got out of it.

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