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Introduction

Boiling and re-boiling more water than necessary for a single cup of tea or coffee wastes a phenomenal amount of energy every day. Fortunately, the efforts of energy-efficiency campaigners have persuaded most manufacturers to come up with new kettle designs to tackle the problem. These modern kettles are much less wasteful than the traditional varieties: of the ones currently available, jug kettles are good, but those with concealed elements are even better.

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Save water, save power

In the UK we each drink an average of 27 cups of tea and coffee each week. It has been calculated that by boiling 1.5 cups of water each time rather than the average 3.5 we could save enough electricity each week to run a TV for 26 hours.

The designers of an award-winning eco-kettle in Australia identified people’s behaviour as the key to improving energy efficiency. Behavioural studies of the product found that the main problem was not the efficiency of the kettle but the way in which it was used. The study found that only 26 per cent of people used the water gauge even when they had one, and that the majority re-boiled the kettle when there was no need.

By putting a large gauge on the top of the kettle, the designers found that people were more likely to use it. In addition, a feature where the top of the kettle turned red at temperatures over 80ºC made people less tempted to re-boil so often. The Axis eco-kettle is produced in Australia by MEC Kambrook, but is not currently distributed in the UK. In 2005, the Eco Kettle was launched in the UK which works on the same principle of encouraging people to only boil the water they need. The kettle can be filled to the brim where it is held in a central chamber, then a button allows you to release the specific amount of water you need (1-8 cups) into the boiling chamber. The kettle carries the Energy Saving Trusts recommended label (www.ecokettle.com).

Re-boiling is not only a waste of energy but often makes a worse drink. Coffee, for example, should be brewed with water at between 85-90ºC, so as not to damage the delicate oils in the bean. Water straight out of the kettle will be over 100ºC.

Stove-top kettles for gas cookers have long been an environmental favourite because, although they use slightly more energy than a jug kettle to boil the water, the inherent inefficiency of conventional electricity production makes them a better choice in terms of carbon emissions. However, with the evolution of ‘100 per cent green’ electricity it is possible to run an electric kettle with practically zero carbon impact. Electric kettles can, therefore, represent the best environmental option.

Countries of origin

The production of most household appliances is now ‘out-sourced’, meaning that the company which owns the brand name is only directly involved in the design and sourcing of the item, but not in the actual production. Some companies’ goods Kettles are produced by over 25 unaffiliated manufacturers located primarily in Far East locations, such as Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. Such companies do not often maintain long-term purchase contracts with manufacturers, preferring to work on the basis of a single contract that is not reliant on any individual supplier.

Although such practices are standard, they reflect the fundamental problem of globalisation: flexibility for a company in the ‘north’ means job insecurity and a lack of long-term investment in the ‘south’. Such a multitude of suppliers also makes it very difficult for people to hold corporations to account for the conditions under which their goods are produced. With labour costs in Taiwan and South Korea rising, China has now become the main producer of kitchen appliances.

Good practice

  • When buying a new kettle, look for one with a covered element. These permit the boiling of smaller quantities of water, reducing the amount that is wasted
  • Boil only as much water as you need each time – look for a kettle with a gauge so you can tell exactly how much you need
  • If you live in a hard water area, leave the kettle empty after each use and descale it every month with a little vinegar
  • Gas kettles’ efficiency can be improved by the addition of a ‘heat-ring’ around the base
  • Go to www.gooshing.co.uk for information on a wide selection of kettles. It’s a free service where you can buy online, find the cheapest deals and compare ethical ratings on over 250,000 products

Ethical Comparison – Kettles Rankings Detailed Table


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