Hand- or Machine-Washing: Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

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Paul Misciagno
After the dinner has been eaten and the leftovers put away, those dishes need to be done. Ever wonder if you could conserve water and energy by turning off the dishwasher and wash dishes the old-fashioned way?

Basically technology wins here, but you have to have a somewhat modern dishwasher on the right setting. Dishwashers have become more water- and energy-efficient over the years. From 1993 to 2003, dishwashers became 27 percent more energy efficient and 30 percent more water efficient. Look for the Energy Star rating and models with different cycles that use less water and energy.

Being eco comes with a price, however, and I don't just mean monetarily.

I'm not one to keel over and accept that technology can beat me in being eco. You could definitely beat the dishwasher by hand-washing in both water and energy usage. Here is how: You have to be smart about your washing, and you would also have to have two sink basins. First you fill one side of the sink with hot soapy water and the other side with cold clean water for rinsing. The dishes must first be wiped clean to remove all food and then begin your assembly line going from a scrub in the soapy water to a quick dip through the rinse and then on to the drying rack.

For the dishwasher you have to consider the resources used to manufacture and ship, while on the other hand, hand-washing is an investment of time. I think most of us in our busy day-to-day do not have time, or don't want to make time, to set up sinks and wash dishes by hand. Although I find washing dishes to be kinda soothing in a way, I would still trade off washing dishes for spending time with my daughter.

Did I say soothing? Yes, I occasionally like to wash dishes by hand, and here is why. In the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, he gives an interesting view of washing dishes, and since reading about it, I do not look at washing dishes the same. I will leave you with what I read and maybe your opinion of washing dishes will change and washing dishes can be a form of therapy for you as well.

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Wikicommons/Duc (pixiduc)
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
By: Thich Nhat Hanh

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands.

I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the fork in my hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and flavor of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end--that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.




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