Washing machines

by Walter R. Stahel
The Product-Life Institute Geneva

This case study was first published in 1989 in German as part of the book:
Stahel, Walter R. (1989) Langlebigkeit und Materialrecycling - Strategien zur Ver­mei­dung von Abfällen im Bereich der Produkte; Vulkan Verlag, Essen; ISBN 3-8027-2815-7, second edition 1992.

A partial English translation was published by the R&D office, U.S. EPA, Washington D.C..

Low-polluting large appliances, price range: 1,000 to 5,000 DM. Cooperative study with the companies Zanker GmbH and Electrolux Waschereimaschinen GmbH, Tubingen, both subsidiaries of the Electrolux group.

The first two sections (manufacturer’s case study proper) were prepared in conjunction with the manufacturing companies. Responsibility for the other sections (product case study) lies exclusively with the research group.

Description of the Product Examined

The starting point of this case study was the household washing machine; however, we later realized that the use of long-term appliances (technical strategy A) in conjunction with shared or multiple use (distribution strategy V2) is much more sensible for both the business and the economy. Therefore, this case study compares the actual status of the household washing machine with the primary option.

“Semi-commercial” washing machine. Data relative to the latter are presented in the analytical section of the case study (1 to 3) in indented paragraphs.

Household washing machine or fully automatic washing machine for use in private households. Functions: washing at 30-90/95°C, rinsing, and spinning. Washing machines, because of their weight and the need for water connections, are permanently installed appliances that rely on mobile customer service. This appliance is part of a product family that comprises household, semi-commercial, and commercial machines.

Semi-commercial washing machines are automatic washing and spinning machines that, like household washing machines, wash, rinse, and spin dry laundry; they have a similar capacity of 5 to about 7 kg of laundry, a much shorter washing time, a slightly larger washing drum and, in particular, a much longer effective life (instead of 2,500 to 3,000 wash cycles for household machines, about 8,000 to 15,000 cycles for existing semi-commercial machines and up to 30,000 cycles for long-life machines.

Market Description

The washing machine market for private households in Germany is 92% saturated; therefore, product innovation is a necessity in today’s sales-oriented market as a sales incentive to replace existing machines.

Because of the trend toward small apartments in multifamily dwellings there is a counter demand for semi-commercial machines for communal laundries and self-service Laundromats. These machines are programmed like household machines but they have a shorter washing time and are sturdy and easy to maintain.

Market Volume

In 1989, the German washing machine market amounted to 1.767 million machines; of these, 1.75 million (99%) were household machines, 13,000 were semi-commercial machines, and 4,000 were commercial machines.

In the same year, 2.079 million washing machines were manufactured in Germany (West), of which about 30,000 were semi-commercial machines and 5,200 were commercial machines.

The total market for household appliances is about 8.830 million items; 23.7% are refrigerators, 19.3% washing machines, 14.3% stoves, followed by freezers, dishwashers, and driers (source: Lipp, Hans J. and Ruler, Peter, 1990).

Appliance Price Development

A household washing machine with a spinning cycle of about 400-500 RPM cost about 2,200 DM 30 years ago. Today, an appliance that spins at about 800-900 RPM costs only about 1,000 DM, in spite of a considerable devaluation in money in that time span.

Published Studies Relating to the Product. Washing Machines

n Warentest (product testing) and TNO foundations; UBA Berlin; 1979.

n CPRIRPA (1978). Influence of Durability on the Energy Balance; case studies, EC Commission.

n Meyer, Harald (1983). Recycling-Oriented Product Design, diss., TU - Berlin, Prof. Beitz.

n ECCOR (1984). Conceptie en recyclage van huishoudtoestellen, EC Commission.

Wear Parts

The motor, bearings, and timer (programming switches) in a household washing machine are designed to have a certain theoretical technical life. On the other hand, lack of maintenance by the user (regular cleaning of the filter, for example, and cleaning out the detergent) or improper use (using too little detergent may in the case of hard water cause calcification of the heating elements) may cause breakdowns.

Semi-commercial and commercial machines are built more robustly and often have no filter.

Useful Life

The effective life of the household washing machine, that is, data on the age when disposed of (average, minimum, maximum), is not available. The mathematical average, calculated from the total inventory and replacement sales, is about 10 years.

Possible Future Technical Advances

The modern washing machine is an appliance that has to provide a multiple optimisation in the area of the parameters, chemistry-mechanics-time-temperature. Another the condition to be met is the most careful handling of the textile possible. Many limits have essentially already been reached today.

Improvements are still possible in the area of the washing chemistry (e.g., (computer-controlled) dispensing of detergent from a supply according to the dirtiness of the clothes, the size of the load, and the type of laundry) and in the area of textiles (new textiles that are easier to wash and rinse).

Huge improvements would only be possible using a completely different washing method (e.g. without water).

1 Actual Status of Current Production and Distribution

Development, Design, and Production

The household washing machine is designed for a theoretical technical life of at least 2,500 washing cycles with a full program at 90/95°C, or 3,500 cycles at 60°C; modern semi-commercial machines reach up to 15,000 hours, depending on the manufacturer, and commercial machines reach 30,000 operating hours or more. The performance of these machines is measured according to the German Institute for Standards (#44983). Washing machines are still designed (by the manufacturer studied) specifically for certain groups of countries, as certain standard requirements on the European level have not yet been completely harmonized or there are specific standards for certain countries.

Note: The “average family” washes four hot-water loads (90°), four to six coloured loads (60°), and eight delicate loads (30°) per month; for a two-person household the average is one hot load, eight coloured loads, and four delicate loads per month (source: survey by SIH magazine, 1990).

This appliance is designed in principle for ease of maintenance and recycling. The user has to carry out two maintenance tasks himself (clean the filter and clean up detergent). Any repairs require a repairman. During its theoretical technical life this appliance is largely maintenance-free. Risk-management analyses are increasingly considered in product development and have, for example, resulted in the following:

In future commercial appliances all the electrical parts, including the motor, will be placed at the top of the machine, i.e., directly under the cover and protected from water leaks. This increases the ease of repair (“open the lid and everything is accessible”) as well as the life of the appliance.

Note: Certain manufacturers use an easily removable front panel that simplifies access to the components and thus makes repairs easier.

The choice of materials occurs within the context of standards and laws, according to economic criteria, mechanical components are made by the manufacturer, electro-mechanical and electronic components are purchased. There is currently no standardization of components, but efforts to introduce standard components are in progress. Table 2.A shows the percentage of materials in a household washing machine.

Distribution (as far as the sales point)

Two-thirds of household washing machines are distributed via wholesalers and retailers and about one-sixth each via mail order and cash-and-carry outlets.

Semi-commercial and commercial washing machines are distributed via specialized retailers and specialized factory advisors.

Customer Service (after the sale)

The warranty period in Germany is 12 months for household appliances.

It is 6 months for commercial machines.

Note: In Great Britain in particular, many manufacturers offer warranty insurance (on payment of an annual premium) for an additional 4 years.

The manufacturer’s customer service, “Elpro,” which serves all the appliances in the Electrolux group, services about half of installed household washing machines. In addition, there are a number of customer service organizations independent of the manufacturer, sometimes in the form of dealer service departments, as well as independent customer service companies and a few customer services in the mall-order business.

The declared goal of the manufacturer’s customer service for household machines is to follow up on each call within 4 days; in addition, it also has the function of supplying replacement parts for all parties.

Semicommercial and commercial machines have their own customer service, which is in some ways identical to that of the retail stores and operates with shorter reaction times (24 hours).

Local servicemen have mainly technical training (mechanics or electricians); employees with special knowledge of electronics are mostly found in the commercial customer service.

The prices set for replacement parts are “industry-conforming”; that is, the total value of an appliance — as the sum of the prices of all the replacement parts — is far higher than the sales price of the ready-made machine (by a factor of 3 to 20, depending on the component).

The reader is reminded that responsibility for Sections 2.2 and following (product case study) lies exclusively with the research group.

2 Actual Status of Disposal

“End-of-Pipe” Customer Service

In the case of household appliances, normally the old appliances or the packaging are not disposed of by the customer service person; however, if a customer makes this a condition of purchasing a new appliance, the unit is passed on to a disposal company.

The mail-order company Queue has its own strategy; it sells appliances under its own brand name and services them through its own customer service department. It takes back old appliances, removes certain components and reuses them (strategy C: Product-life extension of components), and sells the rest for scrap.

The disposal of old household appliances mostly takes place via the oversized trash collection or via “trash poachers,” that is, used goods dealers who anticipate the oversized trash collection and help themselves to the old appliances sitting at the side of the road. This study has not found any precise data relating to the importance of materials recycling in terms of used appliances (broken down by percentages of materials).

In the case of semi-commercial and commercial machines, they are disposed of (after large-scale exhaustion of the possibilities of strategies B, “Product-life extension of entire products,” and C, “Product-life extension of components”) by the operators via the scrap trade.

3 Strategies for Waste Prevention

Washing machines are technically mature products for one application (in contrast to power tools in Case Study 1); conscious misuse of these appliances by the user is rare.

Basic Strategy 1. Long-Life

A. Long-life products

The present-day washing machine can be obtained in three options: as a household, a semi-commercial, or a commercial machine. Each option has the characteristics of a long-life product in terms of its theoretical technical life in relation to both design (separation into frame, housing, electronic control, and operating components) and use intensity. It is calculated that a household washing machine washes 3 (small family) to 5 (large family) loads of laundry per week, i.e., 150-230 wash cycles per year, for about 15-20 years.

B. Product-life extension of entire product (household washing machines)

B1. Reuse:

There is a small market for used appliances, mainly between private owners and in second-hand shops, but scarcely in the retail trade and normally without a warranty. The strategy of “away-grading” to Eastern Europe is carried out to a degree that is unknown to us.

B2. Repair:

Repairs are carried out by the manufacturer’s customer service or by independent customer service companies; high replacement part costs and the lack of parts standardization may represent obstacles here.

B3. Rebuilding:

Using replacement parts from the manufacturer is often not economical because of the cost structure for replacement parts and is not found on the market. This study did not find any data in Germany on local rebuilding using used parts; in other countries “repair shops” do this kind of work. Factory rebuilding of household washing machines is unknown.

B4. Technical upgrading:

From the list of innovations over the last 10 years (see Table 2.B), we can see that upgrading would make sense only for the control components (programs and timer). For this there are exchangeable data carriers for the control electronics; the latter can be modified or replaced. Since progress in washing machine programs is a central selling point for new machines, however, only fleet operators with rental machines are interested in this possibility. We did not hear of any service companies that offer local upgrading of existing washing machines on the spot.

B. Product-life extension of entire product (semi-commercial and commercial washing machines)

Strategies B1 to B4 are exercised by specialized dealers who buy and exchange appliances, in at least some cases in the same way as with fleet management.


For commercial and semi-commercial washing machines, new kinds of fully automatic washers are also conceivable with completely exchangeable operating and control elements, especially in the case of electronic controls. One possibility for technical upgrading of commercial and semi-commercial washing machines would be recycling the soap water. In particular, using modular washing agents is a possibility here. This could be done externally from supply tanks. However, it should be noted that the cost of technical upgrading is relatively high.

C. Product-life extension of components (household washing machines)


Many independent repairmen have their own supply of used key components such as motors and timers, although storing these is not very important in terms of quantity or economics because of the many different models.

C2, C3, C4:

No central rebuilding is known.

C. Product-life extension of components (semi-commercial and commercial machines)

Strategies C1 to C4 are exercised by specialized dealers who buy and trade appliances, in the same way as fleet managers (example: motor winding); the degree of application is not known.

V. Waste-prevention distribution strategies

V1. Operational leasing and rental:

exist today only for commercial machines.

V2. Shared use:

exists for semi-commercial machines in other countries (e.g., Sweden, Switzerland, USA East Coast) in most multifamily dwellings, and in Laundromats in most industrialized countries.

V3. Purchase of the service “quality control” instead of replacement purchase of products;

in this case study of washing machines we did not find any evidence of the use of this strategy.

Basic Strategy 2. Materials Recycling

Problems in materials recycling arise mainly as a result of compound materials; compound parts, toxic waste, lack of identification of materials, lack of collection organization, and lack of recycling technologies. (For percentages of materials, see Table)

n Compound materials such as fibreglass-reinforced plastics are used by the manufacturer investigated in this case study only for commercial washing machines (manufactured in France). Fibreglass-reinforced polypropylene tubs are installed in household washing machines manufactured abroad.

n Compound parts are present in the form of the motor anchor (copper windings, iron core, drip resin) and the timer (many nonferrous metals and plastics, drip resin).

n Toxic waste: this product is cadmium-free. The washing drum consists of chromium steel, which, depending on the machine type, contains the elements Ni, Cr, Mg.

n Current units do not have any special material identification; this will be introduced for these appliances starting in 1991 according to the German Institute for Standards (#7728).

n A separate collection organization for disposing of used appliances exists today only in exceptional cases. Disposal mainly occurs via the oversized trash collection of the community, which passes the washing machines on to disposal/recycling businesses or dumps them in landfills.

n Lack of recycling technologies: these technologies are lacking for most non-metal substances listed in Table 2.A. Because of the many different materials and the amounts involved, it can be deduced that in its present form the washing machine is a product that is difficult to separate out; the metal parts can be recycled, but it is assumed that the other substances are in some cases chemically and mechanically bonded to each other:

- As a rule the metals can be easily separated from the rest of the materials and recycled.

- Adhesives and seals (duroplasts) cannot be recycled, and interfere with the recycling of thermoplastics.

- The mixture of plastics cannot be separated into pure fractions (17 types of plastics) with a reasonable amount of work and therefore cannot be recycled, unless (thanks to fleet management) large amounts of polystyrene, PVC, or polyamide are available in at least a 90% degree of purity. Combustion (thermo “recycling”) of the plastics mixture is only possible in combustion facilities with thorough exhaust gas purification; the capacities of these facilities are still very limited in Europe.

- There is a recycling market for paper and cardboard.

- Glass, cement, and ceramics can go to landfills.

- Wood can be used as a fuel, but if the wood is coated or treated, appropriate exhaust gas purification is required at the plant.

n New products out of waste: The concrete weights in household washing machines, which make up 28% of the total weight (see Table 2.A), could be used without further processing as simple building stones for garden walls, for example, in public facilities. (Damping weights made of cast iron, which are also used in washing machines, can be recycled.)

Reasons for Shortened Useful Life (premature wear)

Small loads are uneconomical and shorten the life of the appliance, as a great imbalance occurs during the spin cycle after the washing cycle, which causes excessive stress on the spring legs and shock absorbers. This phenomenon has been more or less neutralized in modern washing machines by means of special motors and their controls as well as by devices that detect the imbalance and switch the machine off. The problem of imbalance is intensified by higher and higher spinning speeds, which are expected in the future for design reasons (smaller drum diameters) and marketing reasons (technical product improvement as an incentive to buy replacement machines).

Reasons for Premature End to Useful Life (Obsolescence) as a Result of Advances in Technology (see Table)

The changeover to the European 230 V electrical grid is no problem for the washing machines currently in operation, as many appliances have already been designed for this changeover for some time. In older models the motor may occasionally overheat. Other advances in technology that might lead to obsolescence are not in immediate view.

4 Suggestions for Alternatives to the Actual Status

n Household washing machines (see Table at the end of this case study)

One goal of this case study is to define solutions that are technically and commercially conceivable, feasible for the manufacturer, and desirable or at least acceptable to the Zanker and Electrolux companies, taking into account the technical and commercial possibilities of waste avoidance under current conditions.

The solution that satisfies these three conditions is called the “primary option”; solutions that satisfy the two first conditions only are called “options.”

Primary option, Rental of semi-commercial long-life washing machines for multiple use by the manufacturer as the operator

(basic strategy 1, strategies A, V1, and V2, i.e., the combination of a technical strategy with a distribution strategy)

In view of technological continuity, the weight and the hook-up of a washing machine, the most tempting alternative is the manufacture of long-life products (strategy A) with subsequent long-term leasing (fleet management, strategy Vi). The manufacturer is mainly interested in fleet management and intensification of utilization by means of multiple use (strategy V2) of semi-commercial long-life appliances; leasing includes all services during use (replacement parts, customer service, repairs). This solution requires:

n In product development, incorporating the broadest possible adaptability (in the sense of open systems) to future user requirements and technical innovations, as well as strict application of avoidance engineering.

n In production, a design that is appropriate for recycling, the broadest possible standardization of parts and components, restriction to the smallest possible number of different materials, which also should be recyclable, and widespread elimination of compound materials.

n In use, a comprehensive life-long responsibility (“unlimited guarantee”) for the appliance, which includes all repair, service, and disposal costs.

n In disposal, a take-back and disposal system with fleet management at the component level.

Option, Long-Life Household Washing Machine

(strategy A with leasing by a different company from the manufacturer (wholesaler, retailer, mail-order house))

The appliances are designed as long-life products (modular design, avoidance engineering, component standardization) and sold to companies that lease the appliances to the final users (the rent includes all services during the period of use). Critical to the success of this option are market accessibility and a cheap payment system for small amounts.

Option of Product-Life Extension of Entire Product

n In the case of household machines there is a functioning customer service, which is not able, however, to overcome the manufacturer-related problems of high repair costs (lack of component standardization, assemblies instead of parts). A very limited used appliance market exists and its potential expansion is connected to the question of determining the residual utilization value and providing a guarantee for used appliances.

n For semi-commercial and commercial machines, there is a well-functioning trade in used appliances (strategy B!); in this market segment, strategies B2 (repair) and B3 (rebuilding) are also used.

Option of Product-Life Extension of Components

n Greatly hampered in the case of household machines by the lack continuity or component standardization for different models and manufacturers.

n In the case of commercial machines, strategies C2 and C3 (e.g., motor rewinding) are already being used.

Keeping a Spare (redundancy)

The user option of the second appliance as insurance can be largely ruled out for space reasons in the case of washing machines.

5 Improvements

Measures on the Part of the Manufacturer During the Transition from the Actual Status to the Alternative Solution. Primary Option

Manufacturing-based: Product development and design according to the principles of long-life products: modular design, standardization of parts by each manufacturer, upgradability of key components (programmable electronic timers), simple replacement of assemblies and parts, increasing the maintenance interval for filters (if present), and detergent flushing; also, in accordance with the principles of economic use of resources (including minimizing the use of electricity and of modular washing agents, recycling of soap water) (see Section 2.3).

Distribution-based: Reorientation of customer service as “customer advocates” instead of exclusively repair technicians; prevention-oriented fleet management operated economically by means of preventive maintenance, with customer advice and instruction; sometimes, search for new distribution partners who think in this way; establishment of a take-back and disposal network for used appliances and components within the context of recycling of materials and clean disposal of used inert materials.

Other Measures on the Part of the Manufacturer Toward Low-Waste Products

Manufacturing-based: Reduction of the number of different types of plastics, occasional use of high-quality recyclable plastics.

6 Business Evaluation of the Primary Option

One goal of this case study is to investigate the effects of the primary option on business and the economy. Changes in the amounts of waste, their toxicity, and the consumption of resources in production, distribution, utilization, and disposal are all taken into account.

Primary option, washing machines case study; basic strategy 1, strategies A and V, rental by the manufacturer as the operator, using long-life washing machines for multiple use. The business evaluation compares the two following variants (see Table 2.C):

n Actual status: sale of household washing machines according to Section 2.1, with limited modular design and without component standardization.

n Primary option: rental of long-life semi-commercial washing machines for multiple use by the manufacturer:

- With largely the same technical specifications but a slightly larger machine design, largely modular construction, standardized components, and optimum rotation rate during the spin cycle (resulting in less stress on the clothes).

- Fleet management by the manufacturer, immediate customer service within 24 hours (instead of 4 days).

If we compare the primary option, “Rental of long-life semi-commercial washing machines” with the actual status, “Sale of household washing machines,” then the following production and distribution-related points become obvious:

n The Electrolux Company is currently number one among commercial washing machine manufacturers. It will also be competitive in semi-commercial machines in terms of production costs and quality. Long-life semi-commercial washing machines are more interesting to a manufacturer in terms of production costs, quality, and yield than are long-life household washing machines.

n The demand for shared laundries may grow faster than the demand for household or small washing machines.

n Technical advances on the system level that might threaten a strategy of rental of long-life products are only likely as a result of a completely different washing process. Technical advances on the component level can sometimes be retrofitted.

n Being closer to the customer makes it easier to determine demand.

In operation and maintenance the variant of rented semi-commercial long-life washing machines also has advantages over the sale of household machines insofar as the principles of long-life products can be followed in product development and design:

n If it is possible to reorient the customer service from repair and parts replacement to more of a customer advice and instruction service, this will produce a price/performance relationship in customer service that can be exploited in distribution promotion.

n A washing machine for shared facilities can take up somewhat more space. This makes it easier to use a modular design for construction, which in turn makes repairs easier. The same applies to designing the machine for longer maintenance intervals.

n Fleet management, preventive engineering, and concentration of washing machines make customer service cheaper.

n The use of standardized components makes it cheaper to store replacement parts and carry out repairs.

n On the other hand, the unlimited (in terms of time) product and disposal obligation of the operator brings a new risk factor to the businessman compared with the 1-year warranty for sales.

In the area of disposal the manufacturer/operator of rented long-life washing machines has the new task of environmentally acceptable recycling of materials. However, if we consider that

n the manufacturer already knows this at the time of product development and thus can build in conscious waste prevention by means of a disposal-friendly product design, especially in the case of compound materials and parts, and also by reusing components during use,

n the size of the fleet will be smaller than if household machines were used for the same demand, and

n an obligation for the manufacturer to take back and dispose of used appliances cannot be ruled out in the short or long term,

then this additional task of disposal no longer argues against the variant of the rented semi-commercial washing machine.

In terms of packaging, it can be assumed that (for the same capacity) a semi-commercial long-life washing machine requires much less packaging than would several household washing machines. If in the future the seller of washing machines also is in charge of disposal of packaging, then, thanks to reusable packaging, for example, this task might be easier to solve in the variant of the rental of semi-commercial washing machines than in the variant where household washing machines are sold.

7 Environmental Aspects of the Primary Option

How does the rented semi-commercial long-life washing machine compare with the household washing machine purchased by one owner in terms of resource savings, waste volume, and emission of pollutants?

Consumption of Resources

1. Today some of the washing machines are still dumped in landfills. Result:

Waste volume 78.5 kg = 100%

Consumption of resources 78.5 kg = 100%

2. Most washing machines, however, are disposed of via the oversized trash collection and end up at the scrap dealer’s, where the iron and steel parts (38.6 kg = 49 wt.%; see Table 2.A) are reclaimed by means of shredding. Result for shredding:

Waste reduction by 38.6 kg = 50%

Consumption of resources 39.1 kg = 50%

(The waste and consumption of resources in the recycling process are not taken into account in these and the following figures.)

3. Disassembly of the used appliances could greatly increase the amount that can be recycled, as the nonferrous metals represent 3.8 kg = 5%, the reusable cement blocks 21.9 kg = 28%, and the recyclable plastics about 4.5 kg = 6%; the remaining 8.2 kg =10.4% of the appliance is not recyclable. The result for shredding after disassembly:

Waste reduction by 38.6 + 31.7 = 70.3 kg = 89.6%

Consumption of resources 8.2 kg = 10.4%

With the use of resources according to cases 1 through 3 we achieve a theoretical technical performance of about 3,000 washing cycles, assuming that the appliance is not discarded prematurely, e.g., for fashion reasons. The consumption of resources per wash cycle is thus:

For 1: disposal in landfills 0.026 kg

For 2: shredding 0.013 kg

For 3: shredding after prior disassembly 0.003 kg

4. The primary option, long-life semi-commercial washing machine for multiple use, requires about a 10% higher consumption of resources (see note below), but permits about 10 times more use of the appliance (expressed in wash cycles, an increase from about 3,000 to about 30,000 wash cycles (see notes below). The result compared with the actual status is therefore as follows:

Consumption of resources

86.35 kg

Consumption of resources for shredding with prior disassembly

10.4% = 8.98 kg

Consumption of resources per wash cycle for case 4, primary option

0.0003 kg

Note 1: The figure of 10% is an expert estimate specific to Zanker and does not apply to all manufacturers.

Note 2: Since household and semi-commercial washing machines have different capacities, the correct common denominator for these calculations would be “consumption of resources per kg of laundry.” Instead we have used “consumption of resources per wash cycle,” whereby the “wash cycles” of the household machine are considered equivalent to the “operating hours” of the semi-commercial machines.

Note 3: The hypothetical machine is a long-life version of the current semi-commercial washing machine, with a useful life comparable to that of the current commercial model.


Let us assume that the same total demand for “washing capacity” is covered using rented semi-commercial washing machines instead of, as now, household machines purchased by single owners. This produces new forms of production and distribution, operation and maintenance, and disposal, with corresponding economically relevant effects on the amount of waste. What are these effects?

Production and Distribution

The rented long-life washing machine in shared utilization permits intensification of utilization that satisfies a given demand for washing capacity using fewer resources and ultimately with less waste. As the calculation above shows, the primary option (case 4) compared with the actual status (case 2) results in waste reduction by a factor of over 40, and compared with case 3, waste reduction by a factor of 10 or higher (see note 4 below).

Note 4: Section 2.1 has shown that the effective useful life of a household machine is about 10 years, but its theoretical technical life is 15-20 years. Since the latter figure was used for our calculations, the reduction in waste might even be twice as great.

In addition, we can expect that a transition from the 6-month or 12-month warranty given to the buyer by the manufacturer to the unlimited product and function responsibility of the manufacturer/fleet manager will produce solutions that save waste and resources, as a result of the design changes that can be expected, although these savings are hard to calculate.

Operation and Maintenance

The rental of semicommercial long-life washing machines for shared use is favorable in terms of waste for the following reasons relating to the intensification of utilization:

Strategy B, Product-Life Extension

B1. The risk of lack of maintenance by the user is decreased by the fleet manager, the premature wear resulting from small wash loads is reduced by using a more solid construction. While there is only a small market for used household washing machines, “reuse” in the shared-use system takes place all the time. In the case of an appliance change it is in the interests of the operator to continue to rent used (overhauled) appliances for as long as possible to new shared facilities.

B2. In terms of considerations relating to business economics, we have determined that fleet management makes it easier to repair washing machines. While the manufacturer’s customer service today services slightly more than half of the installed machines, this percentage will increase to 100% for rented long-life washing machines, and this cost-saving fleet management will be much more economical.

B3. As already mentioned in the section on business economics, in the primary option the manufacturer will demand component standardization from his suppliers and will implement this, which facilitates waste-preventing rebuilding.

B4. The operator of a fleet of rented semi-commercial long-life washing machines is interested for financial reasons in waste-saving technical updating of his equipment (wash program improvements, installation of improved components).

The reuse and recycling of packaging is facilitated in the primary option (as ascertained in Section 2.5) as opposed to the actual status. However, the rental of semi-commercial long-life washing machines for shared utilization is also environmentally more favourable than the use of household machines for reasons relating to technical operation. The long-life machine allows an optimum computer-controlled metering of washing agents and water as well as recycling of soap water. These options are not feasible for the household machine for economic and technical reasons.


When he rents out semi-commercial washing machines the manufacturer/operator takes the responsibility for disposal; he is interested in the highest quality and disposal-friendly product design, and he promises to implement environmentally acceptable disposal. Purchased household washing machines will only reach this high level of disposal if the manufacturers are legally forced to take on this responsibility.

Pollutant Emissions

In an extremely cautious estimate, the total annual environmental damage in West Germany in the second half of the 1980s has been calculated to exceed 103.5 billion DM. Of this amount 46% resulted from air pollution, 32% from noise emissions, 17% from water pollution, and 5% from soil contamination. This damage is caused by satisfying demand in the broadest sense and therefore basically also by supplying laundry capacity, with all the associated activities on the levels of production, distribution, use, maintenance, and disposal. Thus the question arises whether this economically relevant environmental damage would be less in the primary option than in the extrapolation of the actual status. This question is answered in the positive below using evidence indicating certain possibilities for prolonging the useful life of washing machines that result in reduced environmental pollution.

The following reasons support the more efficient utilization of resources by means of durability and product-life extension (fewer resources required for the same washing capacity) when we compare rented semi-commercial long-life washing machines for multiple use with purchased household washing machines:

n Because of the lower intensity of utilization of the household washing machine, the primary option produces much improved utilization efficiency.

n The incentive to design a (repair-friendly) long-life product is much stronger in the case of a rental system than in the case of a sale with a 6- or 12-month warranty.

n In use, the more solid semi-commercial washing machine demonstrates less premature wear.

n Repairs are cheaper, for the reasons already explained, which promotes the prolongation of the useful life of the appliance or at least does not hinder it.

n The possibility of technical upgrading, which is more likely in the primary option (already planned in), also has the effect of prolonging the life of the machine.

In addition to these factors relating to the washing machine itself, we should also take into account the reduction in packaging in favour of the primary option.

The better ratio of resource consumption to required washing capacity in the case of rental semi-commercial long-life washing machines means that the same washing capacity requires a smaller expenditure in all phases of the life of the product and this in turn causes basically less environmental damage in production, distribution, utilization, maintenance, and disposal.
The same applies to the smaller requirement for packaging and transportation in each of these phases. The transportation associated with distribution and, to a lesser extent, with customer service, is one of the main causes of the two worst forms of environmental pollution mentioned at the beginning, that is, air pollution and noise pollution. From the point of view discussed here, this constitutes a decisive advantage of the primary option.

Table 2.A Percentages of materials by weight in product analysed, “household washing machines”

Table 2.B Technical innovations in the last 10 years

Table 2.C Options, for waste prevention by means of strategies of durability and materials recycling