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Carbon footprint of common consumer products

Author: Maciamo Hay. Written in October 2021.

Everything that needs to be grown, manufactured or transported has a carbon footprint. Whenever food, clothes, electronics, home appliances, furniture, a bicyle, a motorbike or a car, it adds to the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Not all consumer products have the same impact, of course. A car uses much more raw material, requires a lot of manufacturing energy to produce, and is heavy to transport to the end consumer, so its carbon footprint at the time of purchase is huge compared to, say a tshirt or a connected watch. But who could guess how many tshirts it would take to have the same carbon footprint as a car? That's not the kind of thing that people can guess. The only way to do it is with a list showing the carbon footprint of each product rendered in Co2-equivalent. (In case you wonder, a tiny Smart ForTwo Car has the same carbon footprint as 2,000 tshirts, while a luxury sedan car is closer to 6,000 tshirts.)

I have scoured the Web in search of such table and was surprised that I couldn't find any, despite the thousands of websites and articles about climate change and carbon footprints. Or rather, I couldn't find a clear list of common consumer products all summarised in one page. Some companies mention the approximate manufacturing carbon footprint of their products on their websites. For example Dell mentions that one of their typical business laptops generates 350 kg CO2eq to make. But who has the time to check the carbon fooprint of each product they buy, especially when the majority of companies don't mention it at all? That's why I did it fo you.

Most of these values below come from the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME)'s carbon base documentation (except for cars - see below). I have used the cradle-to-gate values per product. The cradle-to-grave (which includes the consumption and end-of-life recycling) is also available if you are interested.

The following list represents the CO2 impact of buying a new product. For home appliances and electronics it does not include the electric consumption from usage, just like cars does not include petrol (or electric) consumption. I prefer not to include the CO2e from usage as this depends on how green your electricity is. If, like me, you have a contract for 100% renewable green electricity, then the carbon footprint from electric consumption is negligible.

Product Carbon footprint (CO2e)
Paper book 2.3 kg per kg (source), i.e. ~0.9 kg of CO2e for a 400-page book
Connected watch 4 kg
Cotton t-shirt 4 kg
Rucksack 10 kg
Shirt 10 kg
Shoes 10~15 kg
Table (wooden, 4 pers.) 15 kg
Jeans 20 kg
Cotton sweater 25 kg
Camera 25~30 kg
Smartphone 15~35 kg
Soundbar 40 kg
Dress 40 kg
Vacuum cleaner 40 kg
Wool jumper 50 kg
Tablet 50 kg
Game console 70 kg
Modem 70 kg
Coat 75 kg
Ink printer 75 kg
Microwave oven 80 kg
Home cinema 100 kg
Sofa 100 kg
Bicycle 100 kg (source)
Electric bicycle 135 kg (source)
Traditional oven 130~190 kg
Laser printer 170 kg
Dishwasher 190~220 kg
TV (20" screen) 200 kg
Fridge (250 l) 200 kg
Bed with mattress 200~250 kg
Laptop computer 175~350 kg
Desktop computer 200~400 kg
Tumble dryer 230~260 kg
Washing machine 250~275 kg
Freezer (250 l) 250~330 kg
TV (40" screen) 320 kg
TV (60" screen) 480 kg
A-segment/City car
(e.g. Fiat 500, Toyota Aygo)
7500~9500 kg
B-segment/Subcompact car
(e.g. Peugeot 208 , Volkswagen Polo)
10,000~11,000 kg
C-segment/Compact car
(e.g. Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf)
12,000~14,000 kg
D-segment/Mid-size car
(e.g. Audi A5, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class)
15,000~18,000 kg
D-segment/Crossover SUV
(e.g. Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Tiguan)
15,000~23,000 kg
E-segment/Full-size car
(e.g. Audi A6 & A7, BMW 5 & 6 Series)
19,000~22,000 kg
F-segment/Full-size luxury car
(e.g. Audi A8, BMW 7 & 8 Series, Bentley Continental)
20,000~27,000 kg
Luxury SUV
(e.g. Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, Maserati Levante)
20,000~26,500 kg

If we take the case of an individual living alone who owns each of the household items above (let's say just one type of TV, printer and bicycle), with a wardrobe of about 10 tshirts, 10 shirts, 5 pairs of jeans/trousers, 7 sweaters/jumpers, and three pairs of shoes, his/her carbon footprint would amount to approximately 4000 kg (4 tonnes) of CO2e, without counting the electric consumption to run electric appliances and devices.

In comparison the manufacturing carbon footprint of a new car ranges between 7.6 tonnes (for a Toyota Aygo or a Citroen C1) to over 27 tonnes (for an Audi e-tron 50 quattro, a Tesla Model X Long Range, or a Bentley Bentayga). So even a small car that is hardly ever driven will cause more CO2 emissions than all the clothes, furniture, household appliances and electronics in one's home.

Now let's have a look at home energy consumption. In many countries homes (and water) are heated mostly with natural gas. Notable exceptions are Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where electricity or wood are preferred. The consumption of natural gas depends on many factors such as the local climate, the quality of insulation, the home size, and how efficient one's gas heater is (more recent condensing boilers being about 15% to 30% more efficient than older models).

The average natural gas consumption per capita is developed countries ranges from approximately 3 MWh in Greece, 4 MWh in Bulgaria and 5 MWh in Portugal to 25 MWh in the United States and 30 MWh in Canada and Russia. Countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy or Japan are around 10 MWh. (Source: Our World in Data) One megawatt-hour (MWh) generates approximately 200 kg of CO2 (well maintained boilers produce less CO2 than poorly maintained ones). Therefore the average Canadian or Russian individual produces 6 tonnes of CO2 per year just for natural gas. That's more than the manufacturing carbon footprint of virtually all of one's household possessions (except cars). Even in the UK, Germany and Italy, that's 2 tonnes per person per year.

Unsurprisingly home heating and hot water are the main source of personal CO2 emissions, dwarfing all one's shopping and even car emissions from driving a petrol cars for almost anyone but people who are always on the road like taxi drivers. Indeed, a traditional petrol car produces between 100 and 150 g of CO2 per km. For someone who drives 10,000 km per year, that 1 to 1.5 tonne of CO2 per year. For a hybrid car, that's about two ot three times less. So the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to lower your heating and use less hot water. Either isolate your house better or wear warmer clothes inside. If you live in a cold country and use exclusively gas for heating the impact will be bigger than to swap your car for a bicycle.

If you can't lower much your consumption of natural gas and/or petrol, you can still offset your carbon footprint by planting trees through one of those websites. In fact, in everybody spent even 25/$/ per year on planting trees, the climate crisis would be solved much more quickly. Trees take time to grow, so don't delay what you can do today, as the CO2 compensated will be progressive over a period of at least 20 years.

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