You might have noticed you use the kettle more than any other appliance in your kitchen and pondered the environmental impact.
Electric and stovetop kettles are not great for the environment as they are made from non-renewable materials.
However, electric kettles are energy-efficient, so they’re not the worst thing.
Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of kettles.
1. How Do Kettles Affect the Environment?
There are different types of kettles, the most prominent being stovetop kettles and electric kettles.
As the name suggests, stovetop kettles are heated over a stove, while electric kettles use electricity to heat water.
Stovetop kettles are typically made from metal – more often than not, stainless steel or copper.
The same applies to electric kettles, they’re usually made from stainless steel or copper, but you can find glass or plastic electric kettles too.
So, kettles are not good for the environment since they are made from non-renewable materials.
Plus, a lot of energy is needed to convert metal ore into usable products, such as kettles.
One of the bigger environmental impacts is also electricity use.
While stovetop kettles do not directly use electricity, they are heated over gas stovetops and electric stoves.
Gas is non-renewable. Even more concerning, gas stoves can release methane, even when they’re not in use.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a higher warming capacity than carbon dioxide, so this is concerning.
Plus, most energy use in the US (and elsewhere) is still reliant on non-renewable electricity, which is why electric stoves and electric kettles are not much greener than gas.
The life cycle is also a big factor when it comes to sustainability.
Building kettles require energy and resources, so the more often kettles need to be replaced, the more often these need to be utilized.
How long kettles last depends on the quality.
A higher-end electric kettle can be used up to 20,000 times, which roughly equates to seven years if the kettle is used eight times a day.
Lower-end electric kettles can last three to five years.
Since stovetop kettles do not need to rely on internal heating mechanisms, they can last considerably longer than electric kettles.
2. Are Kettles Energy-Efficient?
Electric kettles are one of the most energy-efficient appliances: around 80% of the electricity directly goes towards boiling the water.
For comparison: heating water in a microwave is only around 55% energy-efficient, and heating a pot of water on a gas stove would only be 40% energy-efficient.
This is because much of the energy on a stove goes towards heating the pot rather than the water itself, so a microwave is better able to direct energy to the item it is heating.
A standard electric kettle uses around 2 to 3 kilowatts (kW), so boiling a full 3 kW kettle for four and a half minutes with a 2-liter (67 oz) capacity uses 0.225 kWh.
Keep in mind that the more water is in a kettle, the more energy it uses, so the amount of energy used varies.
On the other hand, a stovetop kettle is around 70% energy-efficient.
Stovetop kettles are not as energy-efficient as some of the heat will escape around the kettle rather than heating the water directly.
Kettles with a feature that automatically reheats the water once it drops to a certain temperature use more energy than a basic electric kettle.
Such automatic reheating can account for almost 50% of the kettle’s energy use.
A basic kettle with an immersed heating element was the most efficient compared to those with a concealed heating element.
Thick film heating elements are more energy-efficient again but do not seem to be as common.
Research in the EU noted that using modern, energy-efficient electric kettles would decrease energy consumption by 24.7% (from 9.8 TWh/year to 7.4 TWh/year).
Other recommendations included using thick film heating elements, insulation, limiting re-heating water when unnecessary, and including indicators to show how much water is in the kettle to limit over-boiling.
3. Are Kettles Recyclable?
Kettles can be recycled, because they are most often made from metal, plastic or glass.
Approximately 90% of the materials in an average electric kettle are recyclable.
You cannot put an old kettle in a home recycling bin, though.
Instead, it must be taken to a specific recycling center.
Some manufacturers might have programs where they take old kettles back to recycle.
4. Are Metal Kettles More Eco-Friendly than Plastic?
Metal kettles are more sustainable than plastic.
Neither of these materials is renewable or particularly sustainable.
They’re both sourced via mining, which is a massive source of pollution and environmental destruction.
The lifecycle and recyclability of a product are important factors to consider.
Metal can be recycled indefinitely, whereas plastic can only be recycled a limited amount of times before the quality has degraded too much.
So, eventually, all plastic will be incinerated or landfilled, whereas metal can continue to be in use.
This is why glass kettles are also arguably more sustainable than plastic kettles too, as glass can also be recycled indefinitely.