Vacuums are like all other appliances, they impact the environment during all three stages of their life cycle, manufacture, use, and disposal.
Impact of Manufacturing VacuumsDuring the manufacturing process the impact includes the expenditure of raw materials such as petroleum for plastics, energy used to produce the vacuum, and the energy used to ship to the end user.
While a few brands still manufacture vacuums in the US, Mexico, and Europe, the majority of vacuums are manufactured in China and Asia. The environmental impact of vacuums manufactured in China and Asia is greater as a result of a lack of environmental regulations in the manufacturing process and in the energy expended and pollution created in shipping. While some of the vacuums made in China and Asia are mid to high quality, the majority are of the disposable variety sold in box stores.
Disposable vacuums exacerbate the problem since their life cycle is shorter. The life cycle of a high quality vacuum can be three to five times longer than that of a disposable vacuum which means the environmental impact of disposable vacuums is three to five times greater.
Impact of Using VacuumsThe environmental impact of using vacuums (aside from indoor air quality issues covered in FAQ and Choosing a Vacuum) is in energy consumption.
The majority of upright vacuums are 12 amp bypass design models with on board tools. These vacuums allow you to clean flooring surfaces and above the floor surfaces, regardless of which surface you are cleaning, the vacuum is drawing 12 amps of electrical power.
Canister vacuums and two motor uprights are also capable of cleaning flooring surfaces and above the floor surfaces, but when cleaning above the floor they usually are only drawing 10 amps. The electrical savings in one unit is not great, but over time and considering the millions of vacuum in use, it definitely is significant.
In terms of electrical use, an even better choice might be a direct air upright for carpeted areas ( 4 to 10 amps depending on the model) and a separate small canister for hard surfaces and above the floor cleaning (10 amps). Direct air upright vacuums with HEPA bags are very effective in cleaning carpeted surfaces, while drawing 2 to 8 amps less.
If one of the 12 amp single motor bypass designs makes more sense for you, keeping it maintained by changing bags, filters, and belts as needed, will make it perform at optimum levels. When if performs better it picks up better and runs less, saving electricity.
Impact of Disposing of VacuumsThe impact of vacuum disposal is two-fold. Since few, if any, vacuums are recycled, there is the obvious impact of creating additional volume in landfills. The other impact is the waste of scarce resources such as petroleum and copper.
Since higher quality vacuums will outlast three to five box store disposable vacuums, the impact of disposable vacuums is obviously greater. When you take into consideration that the vast majority of the vacuums sold are of the box store disposable type, it becomes obvious that the impact is significant. This impact is in most cases unnecessary because the cost of ownership for a higher quality vacuum over its life cycle is often times the same or less than that of disposable vacuums.