Phantom Energy: Why we need to unplug our chargers.

Phantom Energy: Why we need to unplug our chargers.
Listen to the audio of this post here:

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on October 25, 2021.

Hey there,

It’s Halloween week! Have you carved your pumpkin yet?? I had so much fun last week pumpkin carving with friends. It was my first time carving a pumpkin as an adult so it felt pretty darn significant for my life 😄 

A Drop in the Ocean Shop Pumpkin Carving 2021

Although my pumpkin friend has succumbed to the elements on my front porch, it was so stinkin’ cute when it was freshly-carved. Recognize that logo? 😉

Today’s Small Change Big Impact falls right into the Halloween season, with phantoms and vampires. *insert spooky laughter here* 👻👻👻

Let’s start with the basics, shall we?

What do phantoms and vampires have to do with zero waste?

It’s all got to do with energy use. Because remember, zero waste is about more than physical waste. It’s about wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted resources.

Phantom energy, or vampire power, is the energy your electronic devices are always consuming, even when they’re turned off or not in use. Think, laptops shut but not powered down, coffee pots telling time but not brewing up a cup o’ joe, or a phone charger plugged into the wall but not a phone.

All of these things are still pulling energy, ready for you to need them at a fraction-of-a-moment’s notice.

Why do devices even use phantom energy?

Well, my friend, we as consumers want convenience. We see it with Amazon, we see it with grocery delivery, we see it with our devices.

As new devices are created, manufacturers are constantly finding new ways to make our lives marginally more convenient. One of the ways they do that is by creating products that are always and forever pulling a little bit of energy so they’re always ready to go without any wait time.

But that doesn’t come without a cost. As much as we want energy efficiency, we want that convenience, too. And as we become more of a technology-driven society, we’re adding more and more phantom energy into our lives.

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop

Why does it matter if we have phantom energy?

Look around your home. What devices are plugged in right now?

Some of these things we can’t really change. Home security systems, for example, are useless without their power. So we can’t unplug those.

But do you have any phone chargers plugged in even though your phone is in your pocket? Maybe a printer or an electric kettle? A box fan you’ve turned off as the weather’s cooled down but haven’t unplugged yet?

*Excuse me while I go unplug my printer…*

According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a fully-charged cell phone that’s still plugged into the charger is drawing about 2.24 watts of energy, or about 60% of the power it consumed while it was actively charging. A laptop in the same scenario is pulling about 29 watts of energy - a whopping 66% of the energy it consumed while it was charging.

*Excuse me while I unplug my laptop…*

Now that we’ve unplugged our devices, let’s go back to the chargers themselves. Leaving that phone charger plugged in is still going to consume about 0.26 watts of energy, and the laptop charger is pulling another 4.42 watts.

So let’s say your phone charger is always plugged into the same outlet, all day, every day. You charge your phone for one hour and take it off the charger. The charger itself is still plugged in without a phone to charge for 23 hours of the day. 

Over the course of a year, that phone charger is going to pull 2.18 kilowatt-hours of energy...or the equivalent of driving 3.9 miles in an average car.

That might not seem like much, but let’s extrapolate, shall we?

About 294 million Americans own a smartphone. If every one of us left our chargers plugged in all year, that’s like an extra 98,781 cars on the road, driving more than 1.1 BILLION miles.

Now whaddaya say we do the same math for a laptop charger…?

We’ll go ahead and say your laptop is charging for two hours a day instead of one, and you unplug it once it’s charged. For 22 hours every day, your charger is still pulling energy even though it’s not connected to your laptop. Over one year, that charger is going to pull an extra 35.5 kilowatt-hours of energy. The equivalent of driving 63.2 miles. 

Just from one laptop charger.

If all those 294 million Americans leave their laptop chargers plugged in all year, that’s like adding 1.6 MILLION cars to the roads, driving a combined 18.6 BILLION miles.

And let’s not forget we’re still paying for all of that phantom energy even though we’re not using it. So we’re wasting energy, we’re spending money we don’t need to spend and giving more money to our energy providers, likely using fossil fuels.

In 2015, the National Resources Defense Council found that about 23% of a household’s energy use each year is from phantom energy. So let’s fix that!

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop

How can we banish the phantoms?

First, go on an unplugging spree. What can you unplug right now? Do you have any devices still on their chargers even though they’re at full battery?

Get into the habit of unplugging your chargers when they’re not in use

Try to avoid charging your devices overnight so they’re not pulling extra energy while you sleep.

Because I couldn’t resist more math… If you sleep 7 hours a night, and your phone is charging for the first hour but plugged in for the other 6, and then the charger stays plugged in the other 17 hours, that’s like driving 0.04 extra miles every day (or an extra 14.6 miles every year).

Group chargers onto a power strip and turn off the power strip when they’re not in use. There are even power strips that have a “master” outlet that controls the others. So let’s say you have a computer, a monitor, and a printer. You can plug your computer into the “master” outlet, and when you turn off your computer, it’ll automatically turn off power to the monitor and printer, too. Some power strips will even connect to your phone or smart home device so you can turn everything off remotely!

When you’re ready for new appliances, choose the most energy efficient option available. My morning coffee routine, for example, requires very little energy and zero phantom energy now. I only plug in my coffee grinder when I need to use it, I heat the water in a kettle on the stove, and put it all together in a French press. Not only do I avoid waste from coffee filters, I also avoid a ton of phantom energy I used to have with my automatic coffee maker.

So, no more phantoms and vampires for you, friend! Just in time for All Hallows’ Eve.

But I’m curious… Were you already familiar with the vampires in your home? Or are you on a vampire hunt now? Let’s chat over in the EcoWarrior Pod! Because maybe there are some more vampires we wouldn’t think of on our own.

Happy Halloween, my friend!

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