Monday, 18 February 2008

The Great Dish Washing Challenge: Hand or Machine? And What about Those Phosphates?

Canada’s Conservative government says it will bring down the limit on allowable phosphates in detergents to .5 per cent in 2010. Far too late, environmental critics are saying. Quebec, like Manitoba, will impose the limit next year, while several Quebec retailers have begun to promote low phosphate products already.

The aim, of course, is to stop phosphate from polluting water courses and lakes with chemicals which spur the growth of blue green algae. Serious water pollution may be the result. But why wait two years to impose the limits, environmentalists are asking A year is plenty of time for manufacturers to get rid of stocks, and there are a number of products—including homegrown ones—ready to fill the demand.

The saddest thing in this debate is the fact that nearly 30 years ago citizen pressure resulted in a substantial decrease in the phosphate content of detergent for clothes washing machines. At the time, it seemed the problem was going to be solved, but not only were detergents for dishwashers exempted from the regulations but also apparently no phosphate limits were put on other kinds of cleaners.

Today there are a lot more dishwashers than there were so long ago, producing a much greater phosphate load than was expected in the 1970s. If there is a moral to this story it is: do not trust a government or an industry to quietly lay down their arms if there is a way around a regulation.

A related question is: why use dishwashers anyway? New models use between 3 and 10 gallons of water per wash, apparently, but hand washing uses about half that if you are turn off the faucet between rinses. And while it may be nice to fill a dishwasher after a dinner party and turn the thing on while you go to bed to sleep off the good food and drink, for ordinary meals I’m not convinced you save much time—and certainly use more energy and water—if you use a machine.

Not convinced? A study cited on Treehugger says that new, high efficiency European machines are better environmentally than hand washing, but as the comments suggest the study may have some built-in biases in favour of the machines. Maybe we need a dish washing bee to compare technique and water use. What do you say?


Anne C. said...

I don't have a dishwasher, but I often calculate the amount of adult time spent washing up in the course of a normal day, and, here, with our family of four, we spend close to two hours, which seems wasteful in a different way.

I guess it would be nice to be able to feel enviro-virtuous about this!

Pale said...

I have a dishwasher, but I also have skin problems that are a direct legacy of exposure to too many chemicals from a job I had. Can't wear gloves,(they leech chemicals) and I can't do dishes by hand often or I break out. Badly. Some people dont load the dishwasher properly though, or turn it on when its only half full. Also, if one uses the power saving cycles, and just leaves the door propped open instead of using the drying cycle, it saves on one thing. Electricity. I use Murphy's oil soap for cleaning (It is the best on vinyl floors! and its a vegetable oil soap) and baking soda, and very small amounts of bleach. It all comes out in the end me thinks. :)

Martin Langeland said...

There is an uncommon, but old, idea that fits this discussion which readily expands to efficient kitchen design. The no dry dish rack is a purpose built set of shelves which holds the normal dishes and table utensils and drains int the sink. This greatly reduces the time required for hand washing, and eliminates the need for drying. No drying means fewer towels to wash. Placement of the kitchen sink near the party -- whether thats a literal party, the kid's studying or your spouse puttering by makes the time more useful than stacking and running a noisy dish washer. Sam Clark introduced me to the idea through his book: "The Motion Minded Kitchen" Alas, hard to find. But follow the link to see his site which contains descriptions of his books, and the kitchen he helps his customers design and build. There is also an extensive photo gallery. Lots of information. For my own take there's more here.
Plain soap and water and an efficient kitchen. I think that will prove best for all.

Mary Soderstrom said...

One of my friends got a dishwasher half way through her children's adolesences and discovered another down side: one less short period of shared activity in which to talk about everything and nothing.

The three kids took turns washing, one a night, while she organized the kitchen for the next day. She said she had not realized how much she learned about each child, and had to go looking for similar low-stress moments to touch base with them.

She didn't stop using the dishwasher, though.