Eco-investigator and New Jersey native, Alissa MacMillan, seeks to find answers to your everyday questions about tough decisions we all face, when acting in the best interests for the environment. A freelance writer and philosophy lecturer, Alissa is a former features reporter for the New York Daily News and has been living in County Limerick for nearly eight years. Your queries on all matters environmental, are welcome.
This week, Alissa focuses on using the dishwasher.
Q: We have a dishwasher we tend not to use, instead hand-washing our dishes. Would it be better for the environment if we put it to use?
A: Hand washing dishes might seem the more environmentally-friendly approach, what with your own hard labour involved, but it turns out that running the dishwasher is often the better bet.
While it almost seems counterintuitive that using a large, modern appliance is kinder to the earth than washing dishes the old-fashioned way, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the dishwasher tends to use less water and electricity.
The majority of the energy being used for the dishwasher and for other appliances like the washing machine is in heating the water, so a simple first recommendation is to use a lower temperature, which requires less energy. Avail of the eco-setting, suggests Susan Whyte of the ESB, which is the most economical and will set the temperature to about 50°C. Likewise for the washing machine – if clothes aren’t too dirty, the SEAI advises, 30°C should do the trick.
Depending on your electricity meter, it might be better – and cheaper – to start the dishwasher as you’re toddling off to bed. If you have a Day/Night meter or a smart meter, there are plans like Electric Ireland’s Home Electric+ Nightboost which charges a lower rate for electricity usage at night time, explains Whyte.
Of course, there should be some common sense at work as well, like don’t run the dishwasher if there are only a few dishes in it, but wait for a full load; if you’ve prewashed the dishes by hand, the job is probably already done; even without a special meter, using appliances at night when power demand is lower, makes sense, and if you do wash your dishes by hand, letting the hot water flow while you scrub is perhaps not the optimal strategy! (With no dishwasher, we use cold tap water and it mostly cleans the dishes.)
It might seem like a small matter, but all of these moments can add up.
“Understanding how much energy we use in the home every day, and where that energy comes from, is key to reducing our energy consumption,” Whyte explains. “In turn, this reduces our impact on the environment and, ultimately, helps us to save money.”
While I had her ear, I got a few other tips from Whyte: the tumble dryer is a real energy-sucker, so avail of the fresh Irish breeze outdoors if you can; only boil the water you’ll need in your kettle; don’t take endless electric showers; and plug out appliances you aren’t using – that fully charged phone just sitting in the socket is actually costing you. And costing the environment.
Direct your eco related queries for Alissa to firstname.lastname@example.org (with ‘Alissa’s Eco-advice’ in the subject line)