Ha-HA! I bet you forgot in the midst all of the religion and politics and food posts that I originally started this blog about being eco-friendly. Well, I re-earn my moniker today with my collection of green dish-washing tips. Washing dishes, if you’re not paying attention, can be a drain on several resources: electricity, natural gas if it heats your water, and water itself. It also produces waste with used and abused scrubbies, chemical run-off from your choice of suds, and detergent bottles. (Don’t even get me started on those individually-wrapped soap tablets for the dishwasher. Grr!)
If you’re living in fear that being eco-friendly means that you’ll have to stop using your dishwasher, don’t be afraid! Modern dishwashers are extremely efficient, especially if they’re Energy Star rated in both power and water consumption. There is some debate over whether hand-washing or dishwashers are more eco-friendly, so it’s not necessary to run out and purchase a dishwasher if you’re washing manually now; suffice to say, if you already have a dishwasher and it is relatively new, you’re safe to keep using it. Some tips for getting the most out of your water and energy usage with a dishwasher are to ensure that you’re not running partial loads (spread that water and power over more dishes!) and that you’re maintaining the machine with regular cleaning to keep its performance level high.
If you’re like me, though, you don’t have the luxury of a modern dishwasher. Or any dishwasher. My husband and I are the dishwashers in our house–at least until we have children–so we have to make do with our hands and the sink. Hand-washing dishes can be extremely wasteful if you’re not paying attention. Over the years, I’ve compiled some tips to help slim down my environmental impact while washing dishes.
Don’t leave the water running.
This may seem like a gimme, but a lot of people (including my husband) run the water continuously while washing dishes. Not only do you use more water when washing this way, you use more soap because you’re washing your soap down the drain while you scrub. If you’re lucky enough to have a two-part sink, then you have compartments for washing and rinsing already; I fill both sinks, one with soapy water and one with clean, and turn the water off while washing dishes. When I had a single sink basin, I filled a large bowl with soapy water and used that for washing.
Getting the most out of your water is the key for filling your basins; after all, if you’re changing the water two or three times while washing dishes, you’re not conserving much. To extend the life of my wash-water, I pull the trash can beside me and scrape food bits into the trash. (This is especially handy when I come across all of the peanut-butter-smeared knives and spoons that find their way into the sink–roughly half of the utensils we own will be covered in peanut butter at any one time.) My wash water doesn’t get as dirty when I make sure to remove the food particles. I also like to try to wait until I have a “full load” of dishes, so that I’m not filling up the sink for a couple of bowls and plates. Most people aren’t as lackadaisical about dishes as I am and don’t like their dirty dishes to sit out very long; if you can wait until after dinner to do dishes for the whole day, though, you can extend the mileage on your dishwater. (You can also just use less water for smaller loads.)
According to the Planet dish soap website, “You will generally get better results by washing your less greasy dishes first, like glasses and silverware, followed by your more greasy items like plates, and then lastly your pots and pans.” Sound advice, people. Soaking helps get stuck-on food residue off, as well. (And, it allows you to put off doing the dishes, so it’s a double-bonus.)
Rinse water can get scuzzy pretty fast, too. I discovered a trick that will help keep your rinse water clearer for longer periods of time–and it helps to get the soap residue off of your dishes. Using white vinegar (or lemon scraps, although you ‘d have to let these soak for a bit) to acidulate your rinse water helps to keep it from becoming overly sudsy because the acid neutralizes the soap (also the residue on your dishes). I use about a quarter cup to a third of a cup in a sink full of water. I can do a whole load of hand-washed dishes–roughly 10 plates, 5 cereal bowls, two large mixing bowls, all of the utensils (large ones and individual ones–and I have a lot of cooking utensils), and several cups in one batch of rinse water before I have to refresh it. If I had tried to do that before I discovered the acid trick, well, my dishes would come out dirtier than when I began.
Using an eco-friendly dish soap is a no-brainer, as well; but in this age of constant greenwashing to capitalize on our fears for our environment–how do we choose an eco-friendly dish soap? I’m using Dawn Pure Essentials right now; it’s nice and clear, it’s hypoallergenic, it has a bottle made from 25% post-consumer recycled materials. Sounds great, right? Apparently, there’s a chemical in this dish soap that is supposed to be a neurotoxin.
So, it may look and walk and quack like a duck, but it could be something far more dangerous. Like a cobra in a duck suit. Or brain poison.
I’ve mentioned my love of Planet dish soap before, a soap which is fully biodegradable; however, the problem with buying Planet dish soap is that it’s not really available everywhere and I feel that making a special trip just for this soap to a store that is not really nearby will completely offset the goodness of having the soap. In searching around the internets, I stumbled upon a site called Pristine Planet, a comparison shopping site for green items. In the dish soap section, you can tick off lots of qualities that you’re looking for in a soap: biodegradable, chlorine-free, cruelty-free, dye-free, vegan, organic, et cetera.
I clicked all of them.
Surprisingly, the entire list didn’t go away. Mrs. Meyers made the cut, as did Seventh Generation dishwasher soap. I found a grapefruit dishwashing liquid from Dishmate, a dishwashing liquid by Ecover, and some other promising prospects. I know that Mrs. Meyers, at least, is carried in most stores these days, so I’ll probably switch to that next time I buy soap.
Castile soap is another great option; I can never find it where I shop, though–at least, I can’t find it where it’s not totally overpriced and has some weird smell I don’t like added to it. But it’s natural, safe, and better than neurotoxins all over your dishes.
Prolonging the life of dishwashing paraphernalia can help lessen your ecological footprint. The most “green” thing would probably be to use dishrags and brushes that will last indefinitely when washing dishes. But, I like those little green scrubbies. I really like those green scrubbies. So, I make myself a deal when I use the scrubbies: firstly, I use them until they are practically falling apart in my hands. When they are completely devoid of scrubbery, I toss them, but not until then. (Unless they get caked with food or something–which brings me to tip #2 for dishwashing tools, always rinse and wring after use to avoid creating a disgusting bacteria-riddled mess.) I also get more use out of my scrubbies by cutting them in half before using them. I don’t need a scrubby the size of my whole hand; one that fits in my palm will do. My scrubbies last twice as long this way.
I have a few miscellaneous tips that, while they aren’t totally vital to having a green dishwashing routine, are helpful. Having more than one drying station can help by allowing you to do more dishes at once with the water you already prepared. When I bought a shiny new double-decker drying station, I kept my old one and stuck them both on the counter. I can now do twice as many dishes in one load because I have more drying space. We also tend to re-use dishes that aren’t “too” dirty (if I have a few sandwich crumbs on a plate, I’m very likely to put my next meal right on the same plate) or even re-use each other’s dishes if one of us just finished eating and the other one is getting ready to sit down to eat. We often share cups between the two of us (water cups, mostly, although we use the “I just finished and now you can put the same thing in the cup if you want some” routine that we do with plates) and often put our water cups right back on the dish drainer after drinking out of them.
Don’t worry–if you come visit, I’ll make sure you get an unused cup. Heh.
If you’ve been fretting over the environmental impact of your dishwashing habits, I hope that you’ve either been put at ease or inspired to make some changes after reading this. What dishwashing routines do you find useful?
Dear Penn and Teller,
I love your show Bullshit! and I watch it a lot. I don’t always agree with what you put forth, but I feel like you always try to make a reasonable argument. Then I watched your show on organic foods, which put forth the idea that organic food is not nutritionally superior, is actually more harmful as far as pesticides are concerned, is not better for the environment, and, if done on a global scale, will cause nearly half of the Earth’s population to starve to death.
I’m willing to concede that I haven’t personally read studies about the nutritional value of organic food; I don’t really know that it’s any better for the environment; I have little-to-no hard evidence to dispute any of the factual claims that you made, and I’m not really interested in doing so. No, what I’m a bit riled about is the assertion by the “sourpussy” toward the end about why people continue to buy organic when the benefits are, so you claim, non-existent. He made the statement that we buy organic food because we want to be “greener-than-thou,” that we want to feel superior to other people and feel good about the lives we’re living, blah blah blah.
This is where you lost me. I’m not going to make any radical show-boycotting statements or anything like that, but honestly? People are turning to organic food because they want to feel superior to other people? I grant you, there are people who do just that. There aren’t that many people, though, who are inclined to do things just to look down their noses at others, yet organic foods are becoming so popular that Wal-Mart is carrying them.
May I suggest another alternative to your clearly-biased sourpussy’s opinion? People are turning to organic foods because they are seeing people becoming ill, maybe feeling ill themselves; their kids are getting fat, they’re getting fat, they are lethargic, and they know it has something to do with the food that they eat. Maybe they’ve cut out fast food, cut out frozen foods, cut out restaurants, cut out chips and sodas and candy, and still aren’t seeing the results that they want. They’re still overweight or they are borderline diabetic; they are worried they might be at risk for cancer or they have no energy to get through the day. Organic food is supposed to be good for you, so they turn to organic foods; they turn to organic foods because it’s supposed to be safer and healthier for their families. Are these all really people who spend 30-50% more on food just to present an image? It’s not about the image. It’s mostly about people wanting to do right for themselves and their families; even the annoying couple that you showed just wanted to do right by their family and feel good. I like them much better than I like the asshole who put down buying organics to simple vanity.
Really, your ‘expert’ espoused such an unprofessional, biased opinion of people who buy and eat organic that it calls his entire expertise into question. What is he looking for when he does his research?
I’m not in some huffy uproar over you daring to be skeptical about organic foods. You’ve made me curious to do a lot of research on my own. But for crying out loud, you should make sure that your scientific experts aren’t biased before you have them on the show; you probably know as well as anybody that someone who thinks that people who eat organic do so because they are vain will probably pay more attention to results that support his bias than not. Also, I just think it’s dehumanizing; you care about people when talking about how important it is to keep feeding them, but not so much about the people who turn to organic foods because they want to be healthy and want their families to be healthy, who are concerned and maybe frightened. No, no, those people, superiority complexes, vain bastards, all of them.
At the end of 2008, I divorced Whole Foods, explaining that we had grown apart over time. What really happened was, we were broke, and broke people don’t shop at Whole Foods. Broke people shop at Wal-Mart. And that’s where we have been doing our grocery shopping for nearly two years.
The other night, Mr. Geek and I, suckers for documentaries on Netflix, watched a docu called Food Matters. I’ve been a nutrition geek for a long time. Even though I have not been eating the way that I should, I cut out eating most (not all, but most) processed foods a long time ago, with the exception of my raging addiction to soda. My fast food is extremely limited; I do a lot of cooking at home. Watching Food Matters made me realize that I’m still not treating myself well enough. The premise of the film is that, of course, food matters–what we eat determines so much of how healthy we are, and not just in a “don’t eat fast food” kind of way. Our bodies are amazing and, with proper nutrition, can do so much.
We had a little incident recently with some fruit flies. A little bit of food had fallen off of the counter and back behind the trash can; due to our garbage service being canceled for about a week (maybe a little longer), our trash piled up for a bit because our landlord had told us to hang tight and we would get cans back. Mr. Geek and I are kind of lazy about emptying the trash as it is, so we just didn’t take it out for a week.
When we finally did get our cans back, we discovered a small swarm of about “a million fruit flies!! Jesus!” behind the garbage can. After we picked up the offending bit of rubbish, they branched out, seeking out our peaches, tomatoes, dishes, and whatever else they could find to feed off of. We’d had some issues before with some sort of bug that had found its way into our pantry–likely as a result of not having any screens on two of our windows–and most of our food was locked up pretty tight, so they ended up buzzing around the refrigerator and the dishes, hoping for a morsel or two. Put bluntly, it was gross and annoying.
Bug-bombing the apartment with chemicals was out of the question. As I explained in a recent post, I haven’t used any kind of chemicals in the house for a long time, cleaners and the like. We have some small furry kittens who probably wouldn’t appreciate me poisoning the air, carpet, and everything else. I wouldn’t appreciate it much, either. So I used my Google-Fu and did a little research. Everyone has a slightly different method, but it basically boils down to this:
1) Get a container, such as a bowl or a jar, and fill it with something that fruit flies find tasty. I used leftover Marsala wine that was a little too syrupy-sweet; cider or red wine vinegar supposedly also works. Remember that fruit flies like fermenting, spoiling, rotting things, like fruit that’s going over. [Edit--I have tried this trick with the cider vinegar, and I have to say, they loved the sweet wine, but they were iffy on the vinegar. The bottle of Marsala wine I had bought was only five or six bucks--I'd recommend going for that instead of using up your vinegar.]
2) Devise a way either to trap or kill the flies once they are attracted to your bait. Some recommended using a bit of dish soap to kill them; others recommended using plastic wrap with tiny holes poked in it (flies get in, can’t get out). I used the latter method, using the tip of a steak knife to poke small holes in the plastic wrap. It worked beautifully. One site I saw used a jar and a tight paper funnel that would allow flies in but prevent them from going back out. Flies are not that smart; they’re easy to trick.
3) Set the trap near places where fruit flies might congregate and get the scent of the delicious bait.
Not only did my trap work wonders, it worked fast. In just a few short hours, the population was noticeably smaller. Within a few days, they were gone but for a straggler or two. I only had to change out the wine and plastic once per trap I set (one by the sink, one on the fridge).
If you’ve run across this page because you are actively having fruit fly problems, remember that they will recur if you don’t eliminate the source. We’ve started keeping our fruits in the fridge (but not the tomatoes–I’ll be damned if I refrigerate tomatoes!) to avoid further incidents. And our trash has been taken out quite recently. But after you eliminate the source, you can break out the cider vinegar and plastic wrap to trap the greedy little scavengers without poisoning the rest of the inhabitants of your home.
- Get Rid of Fruitflies with a Homemade Fruit Fly Trap (apartmenttherapy.com)
If seen through the eyes of the oil and fuel industry, the bright, sunny potential of bio-fuels looks more like a storm brewing. As more and more environmentalists call for better fuel economy and for bio-fuels that will help break our dependence on a non-renewable fuel resource, and as environmental disasters involving oil occur, one might think that the oil industry would see the light–it’s so simple, isn’t it? We can grow our own fuel on land that is not being used and turn our fuel industry into a homegrown sector of the economy. We wouldn’t have to worry about oil spills, foreign oil, oil shortages, or worst of all, what happens when the oil runs out. It would be great–but it’s never going to happen. Unless.
Why isn’t it going to happen? I may be a bad environmentalist for being a realist here, but have you ever wondered why the automotive industry is suddenly throwing their weight more and more behind the hydrogen car? It’s not because hydrogen is better; it’s because, much like gasoline, you can’t brew your own fuel in your backyard if your car runs on hydrogen fuel. That means we still pay whatever they want to charge us for fuel. That means they don’t have any competition from folks who want to start up their own fuel business; Jim can’t open up “Jim’s Hydrogen Fueling Station” the way he could conceivably do with a bio-diesel/ethanol station. And it means that we have to buy completely new cars to run off of the hydrogen fuel. A car can be very simply converted from running gasoline to ethanol; diesel engines don’t even need conversion to run on bio-diesel, they will run on it right off the showroom floor. Converting a car–or not even needing to convert a car–is less expensive than buying a whole new shiny Hydrogen-powered vehicle, so it’s the less attractive option for the industry. The potential for small fuel producers is unattractive to an industry run by people who are used to having a Titan’s grip on the supply and the ability of people to enter into the market as competition. These are the reasons that bio-fuels are simply not going to become a mainstream industry.
We as consumers know what to do. We know that not being dependent on a “found,” non-renewable resource is better than being enslaved to something that could run out at any time. We know that being able to produce our own fuel would be better for our economy than sending billions overseas for their oil supply. We know that it would be better for the environment with fewer emissions. And here’s the really brilliant thing: this is the one circumstance where we don’t have to wait for the industry. We can make our own industry.
We don’t have to wait for the oil industry to decide that it wants to focus on bio-fuels. A group of people could pool their resources, buy a farm, plant corn, produce and sell their own fuel–or even one person with extra money to invest. There can be ethanol co-ops, bio-diesel co-ops, people could operate their own fillin’ stations that exclusively sell bio-fuels. This is possible because it’s a created resource, not a discovered resource. I’m from Kentucky; my people have been making moonshine for hundreds of years, which, basically, is car fuel. It’s not rocket science. It takes determination, some know-how, some cash flow to get going, and the ability to convince people to give it a try. In other words, what any great industry takes in its inception.
Unless we are willing to shoulder the responsibility for making bio-fuels America’s next great industry, it won’t happen. We cannot wait for the oil companies, the auto industry, the White House, Congress, or the gas station down the road. If we sit on our hands and watch the decisions being made for us, we won’t get what we want. We won’t get what’s right for us. America, let’s face cold facts: industry does not give a shit about us 99% of the time. What they care about is us buying their products and making the highest profits that they can from us buying their products. If they can keep complete control over the industry that we’re dependent on, even better–more profits for them. Waiting for the industry to do what’s right is like waiting for a lion to open a gazelle sanctuary. Don’t wait for industry to do the right thing; do the right thing and let the industry catch up.