The standard household vacuum cleaner: Very clean, but is it green?
Vacuums capture and dispose of far more dust than brooms, but they also consume power, produce noise, and most models leave behind an endless series of dust-filled bags that need to be thrown out.
Is there a way to do this better?
“It’s a product category no one really has been thinking about before as something that needs an environmental improvement,” says Cecilia Nord, vice president of sustainability for Electrolux Small Appliances.
“As it turns out, you can actually achieve improvement by focusing on energy consumption, and also the materials in the product. It’s not insignificant.”
Her company produces greener sister versions of its entire vacuum cleaner product line. They may not yet be as widely available, but some pretty efficient, powerful machines are being produced.
“Depending on the model, we range from 33-50 per cent lower energy consumption,” Nord says. “The fantastic thing is, we make this big saving in energy consumption, and only lose one percentage point in actual cleaning performance.”
Electrolux is not alone. Rainbow, Sanitaire, Filter Queen, Miele and Dyson highlight a long — and ever-growing — list of manufacturers building more environmentally friendly machines.
“Historically, the consumer has been led to believe that if you have a high-wattage vacuum, it’s a powerful cleaner,” says Nord. “But that has nothing to do with it. It’s how well it’s designed that provides the cleaning performance.”
Noise remains an issue, although more-efficient vacuum cleaners tend to also be slightly quieter.
And though bagless vacuums certainly exist, even vacuum bags are gradually being greened.
“We’re finding renewable resources that can be transferred into materials that do the same job as non-renewable ones,” she says. “We’ve actually started marketing a vacuum cleaner dust bag that is made out of corn starch.”
There’s even a designer line of cleaners — Vac from the Sea — made from plastic pollution harvested from the world’s oceans.
“When we started working with recycled plastics, we realized how hard it was for us, as a manufacturer, to come by plastics of a good enough quality. We found local green organizations that are already working with this. We helped them collect plastic, and we use it to make special vacuum cleaners.”