Electric transportation seems to be the solution of the future in a world dominated by fossil fuels. It stands to reason that the same would apply to all devices and appliances, including dryers.
However, this is not necessarily the case. Many factors must be considered when determining environmental effects, including the manufacturing footprint, efficiency, energy source, and drying time of the dryer.
Gas dryers are more environmentally friendly because burning natural gas or LP in the dryer involves fewer energy losses and less pollution than burning petroleum or coal off-site at a power plant.
Are There Differences in the Manufacturing Process?
Despite the differences between gas and electric dryers, it seems that the manufacturing process is largely the same for each of them.
The process also involves machinery and manual tasks. Obviously, those done with machinery have more potential to cause pollution because of the fuel required to power them.
- Regardless of the type of dryer, the process of manufacturing begins with thin sheets of stainless steel being cut to size and then pressed by a machine into the shapes needed.
- Another type of machine bends a long and wide piece of sheet metal into the shape of a dryer drum.
- Yet another automated machine forms grooves in the dryer drum metal for the dryer belt.
- There is also the production of the pulley system, dryer belts, heating elements (electric), gas burner assemblies (gas), etc.
- Screwing together other components of the dryer is done both by automated machines and by hand.
- Eventually, wires are placed in their respective areas and then secured manually. The dryer’s heating element is also secured manually.
- The rest of the process is also done manually. This includes installing the stainless steel sides and the control panel.
Dryer Manufacturing Pollution
It is thought that factories, including those that produce dryers, are large contributors to global warming.
Manufacturing is bound to have all kinds of environmental impacts, not just contributing to global warming. This could be related to the dryer materials, the mechanical processes, or both.
Again, automation rather than manual assembly lends itself to pollution associated with energy needs since a human does not require electricity to work.
So, although automation greatly speeds up the process, it can be less environmentally friendly than human assembly.
Waste from manufacturing, whether solid, liquid, or gaseous, can enter bodies of water, linger in landfills, and reside in the air.
Example of Material-Based Pollution
Dryer drums can be steel, plastic, or porcelain-coated. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages.
- Steel drums are durable and won’t rust. However, they are often more expensive.
- Plastic drums are less expensive, last a while, and don’t weigh much. However, they are less durable than steel.
- Porcelain-coated drums are easily cleaned and somewhat durable. Unfortunately, they can chip.
(Each material also has differing recyclability, which will be covered in a later section.)
Depending on the dryer drum material, the pollution of the dryer manufacturing process can vary.
Steel and plastic production are known for causing damage to the environment. Although porcelain is not recyclable, its production is not as damaging to the environment as steel or plastic production.
Even if the drum is not made from stainless steel, this metal is used for the majority of the dryer’s structure, regardless of if the dryer is gas or electric.
There are a variety of advantages to using stainless steel, including reduced cost and durability, but one disadvantage is the carbon footprint the steel production process has.
Steel production releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter into the air. These substances can be harmful to human health, and some are greenhouse gases.
Example of Process-Based Pollution
The dryer manufacturing process involves the use of some hydraulics.
Although the idea of hydraulics makes it seem as if the process only uses water, hence the “hydro”, the fluids used in hydraulics are actually often petroleum-based fluids.
When these fluids are spilled, various bodies of water and soil can be contaminated, harming the biota within them.
Manufacturers Taking Steps to Reduce Footprint?
Despite the inherent environmental danger of the existing manufacturing industry, there are efforts being made to reduce carbon footprints and environmental degradation.
Through better-enforced dumping policies, toxic wastes from manufacturing can be properly disposed of so that the pollution of the air, water, and soil is minimized.
Additionally, companies have made environmental pledges laying out their environmental goals and current sustainable actions.
Samsung, a large producer of dryers, has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and water usage while increasing their water recycling rate.
Another large producer of dryers, Whirlpool, has pledged to reach net zero emissions in their plants worldwide by 2030.
GE is developing manufacturing processes that use less energy and less water.
Although gas and electric dryers have different environmental impacts, it can be assumed that the company pledges apply to both since they mainly address manufacturing in general.
Gas Dryer Use and the Environment
When examining the environmental impact of an appliance, a really good place to start is the appliance’s efficiency.
An efficient dryer is one that expends as little energy as possible to achieve its goal—drying clothes. Some would say that it also needs to do this quickly, but this is not always true (heat pump dryers are a good example of this exception).
Gas dryers have an advantage when it comes to drying efficiency because the energy for drying is generated in the machine as the gas burns.
In a study by the Natural Resources Defence Council, it was found that if the natural gas production process creates 100 units of energy, only two units are lost through transmission and distribution to houses and appliances and only one more is lost from heat when the gas is burning in the appliance.
This is a low 3% energy loss.
As you will see when we get to electric dryer use and the environment, this is actually really good.
So, how does this affect the environmental impact of gas dryers?
Well, it has to do with the pollution created per unit of energy generated.
Let’s say that to dry a load of laundry, you need 100 units of energy, and the production of 100 units of energy causes X amount of pollution.
If 3 units of energy are lost, then 103 units of energy are needed, meaning that 1.03X pollution is created. If the loss was greater, even more energy would be needed to dry a load of washing, and more pollution would be released per load.
Natural gas combustion leads to a variety of pollutants being released into the atmosphere. These can include methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
Methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, methane being the most destructive of the two.
Although carbon monoxide is not a greenhouse gas, it can be deadly in high enough concentrations. The potential for gas dryers to produce carbon monoxide, is considered to be one of the most significant drawbacks of these appliances.
Despite its emissions, natural gas is known as a relatively clean fossil fuel since its emissions are far lower in volume than coal or petroleum-generated electricity.
However, burning liquid petroleum gas, or propane, is viewed as cleaner than burning natural gas.
Propane pollutants are the same as those of natural gas. Both emit carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxides, although the amounts differ.
Propane is greener because burning it releases less methane than burning natural gas, and methane is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, propane is not used widely as a means to create electricity, despite its clean nature. In fact, all dryers are designed to run on natural gas and you have to convert them to a propane hookup.
It is worthwhile noting that gas dryers do still use electricity and create these emissions. However, we can say roughly that they only release about 50% of the emissions released by electric dryers (because they only use approximately 50% of the electricity).
Gas dryers typically use between 20,000 and 25,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of natural gas-derived heat per cycle.
Since natural gas creates 1.314 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (one kilowatt-hour = 0.000293071 BTUs), on average, a gas dryer emits about 8.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per cycle.
Gas dryers dry their loads more quickly than electric dryers due to their ability to generate heat faster.
As mentioned, faster doesn’t always mean more efficient. However, in this case, the fact that the clothes dry quicker in a gas dryer does mean that energy is saved because of the amount of energy that is used per unit time by a gas dryer.
Electric Dryer Use and the Environment
Electric dryers are less efficient at drying clothes than gas dryers.
One study found that, if the electric energy-generation process started with 100 energy units, there would only be 31 units of energy remaining for the dryer itself to use! That’s a loss of 69% compared to the 3% loss experienced by gas dryers.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, unlike gas dryers, the energy to heat the air in an electric dryer originates far from the dryer itself in a power plant. Losses occur during this transportation. However, they only equate to 2 units.
The majority of energy loss, however, comes from the second reason. The generation of power at a power plant is actually very inefficient. We can say it this way: to produce 33 units of usable energy, the plant has to aim at producing 100 units.
Let’s assume once again that you need 100 units of energy to dry a load of washing in an electric dryer and producing this energy creates X amount of pollution.
Because only 31 units are usable, more than three times the power needed must be generated at the power plant and transported to the dryer. This means that more than 3X pollution is generated to dry a load of washing.
Burning petroleum or coal, which is required for the most commonly used form of electricity generation, is not a clean process in comparison to burning natural gas—in fact, it’s not considered clean by any standards!
However, if your electric dryer is run on solar power or wind power, emissions and efficiency losses are dramatically reduced.
Although solar power or wind power have their disadvantages through rare earth metal needs and lack of storage, they are still considered green energy since they do not use fossil fuels and do not contribute to global warming through emissions.
So, if your electric dryer is run on solar or wind power, it will be much more environmentally friendly than a gas dryer.
Electric dryers often use between five and seven kilowatts per hour.
This means that, on average, electric dryers emit about 12.702 pounds of carbon dioxide each time they run since coal and petroleum-based power emits about 2.117 pounds of carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour.
This 12.702 pounds of carbon dioxide outweighs the gas dryer emissions by 8.4 pounds.
Electric dryers have a longer drying time than gas dryers.
This means that the dryer must run longer, using more energy and generating more emissions.
Can Dryers Be Recycled?
Gas and electric dryers have a great amount of overlap in terms of their composition. They both have metal panels, a drum and pulley system, a control panel, a blower, lint filters, and vents. The difference is only really seen in the heating setup.
However, while the minor differences mean that one is not easier to recycle than the other, it does mean that one is more valuable to recycle (and so more attractive to a scrap yard) than the other.
Scrapping a dryer involves taking it apart—entirely or just the stainless steel portions—to sell its individual components.
An electric dryer’s heating element can make you more money than a gas dryer’s ignition since an electric heating element can be used in other appliances.
Overall, you can make about six dollars by taking apart your dryer and selling its stainless steel metal, heating element, and other components.
The more you disassemble the appliance, the more money you will earn, but the effort may not be worth a few extra bucks. However, your concern is not money, but eco-friendliness.
Whether you are scrapping a gas dryer or an electric dryer, some recyclers will only take the valuable pieces, while others will take the whole unit and strip it themselves.
Recycling centers that take whole dryers have specialized processes to take apart dryers quickly and effectively, getting at pieces that are harder to reach.
What is left behind are rubber tubes, certain pipes, some electrical components, and plastic pieces.
While not every part will avoid contributing to the landfills, these parts are smaller and fewer than if you were to dump a whole dryer.
So, recycling your dryer is the more eco-friendly option.
Depending on whether the dryer drum is stainless steel, plastic, or ceramic, some dryers can be more easily recycled than others.
- Steel drums are more easily recyclable since scrap steel can be reused fairly easily.
- Plastic drums aren’t as easily recyclable. Steel can go through little modification when reused but the plastic recycling process is more complicated and produces more waste.
- A porcelain dryer drum is very hard to recycle since porcelain cannot be recycled easily.
Unfortunately, most consumers do not recycle their dryers since it can often end up costing money to do so, even if you get a bit of cash from the recyclers.
Most Environmentally-Friendly Dryer Overall
Overall, gas dryers are far more environmentally-friendly compared to electric dryers.
Gas dryers are more efficient, their fuel source contributes less carbon dioxide emissions to the air, and they have faster drying times.
Electric dryers have the allure of a lower price tag and not needing a natural gas hookup, but their usage of power plant energy from coal and petroleum leads to higher emissions and lower energy efficiency.
Of course, getting rid of your dryer entirely may be the most eco-friendly move you can make.