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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Ecological Impact of a Paper Plate vs Soap/Water

   
Author Topic: Ecological Impact of a Paper Plate vs Soap/Water
Raymond Arnold
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Anyone have the slightest clue how to figure this out? If you're washing dishes by hand, is it better or worse to wash the plate or use a paper one?

If you use a paper napkin/towel in the course of any of this, I assume you've neutralized whatever ecological benefit you were going for.

(Yes, I realize in the grand scheme of things this probably isn't all that important)

[ August 05, 2011, 10:29 AM: Message edited by: Raymond Arnold ]

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Jake
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I often wonder about this kind of stuff, Raymond. I think, with plates, that you're probably better off washing the reusable plate than using a disposable one, since there's a fair amount of water that gets used in the manufacture of the paper plates. I could easily be wrong about how the equation balances, though.

As for the paper napkin, I'd say that you've only neutralized the ecological benefit of making the right choice with a disposable vs. non-disposable plate if you wouldn't have used the napkin with one plate, but would have with the other.

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Aerin
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dishwasher vs. handwash - a discussion
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Raymond Arnold
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Thanks.

Generally I assume that a fully loaded dishwasher would be more efficient than the way I wash by hand. But oftentimes I'm dealing with one or two cups/plates at a time, and the dishwasher isn't a practical solution.

I also find that relying on the dishwasher fosters (in me) an attitude of "washing dishes is for sometime in the distant future" which results in a messy kitchen which results in cockroaches.

For the time being, living on my own and rarely having guests in my apartment, I deliberately own only two of each dish, to force myself to wash them immediately. I know eventually I'll need to learn how to be a real adult but for now I think that shortcut is better.

The paper plate question was specifically relevant to work.

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Stone_Wolf_
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Try recycling the paper plate!
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kmbboots
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I am 47 years old and still limit the number of plates I have because that way I have to wash them. And I still end up using paper plates more than I should. Or getting really creative about what can hold cereal.

Adulthood can be put off indefinitely. [Wink]

I really need a dishwasher.

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Raymond Arnold
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There was a period of time (when I lived with my parents) when our dishwasher broke, and suddenly everything was clean because we had to wash things. I'm not sure I ever want a dishwasher.
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Stone_Wolf_
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A dishwasher can be a double edged sword, but for me, I need need need it...the high heat with in sterilizes my children's bottles...so even though I rinse, soak, and wash the bottles with a brush, I still need to pop them in the dish washer...

I used to boil them, but one small kitchen fire is enough to put that option to bed.

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The Rabbit
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I've seen a number of studies doing this kind of comparison and its non-trivial. There are lots of things to be taken into account from logging, to greenhouse gas emission to algal blooms from dish soap. And then you have to try to compare different types of impact. For example, there is no simple way to compare water treatment to landfill space. Then we have to ask whether you are an efficient dish washer or an inefficient dish washer and we need to know whether you are using heavy duty plastic coated paper plates or thin cheap plates.

It's easier to find data on cups than plates and here is what I've been able to find. Manufacture of a paper cup produces 0.25 lb of CO2 and around a cup of water.

If you wash your cup using 1 quart of water heated in a gas water heater, it produces 0.02 lb of CO2.

Of course that's only one aspect. To be complete you need to consider the energy used in the impact of logging, the energy used in making the ceramic cup, the energy used in shipping and garbage pick up, water purification and sewage treatment, and landfill or recycling costs. Making a ceramic cup takes 70 times the energy of making a styrofoam cup, but that cup can be used hundreds, possibly thousands of times. Plus, most people are going to own at least some plates and cups even if they use disposables most of the time.

Overall, given the energy cost comparison, I'm confident that washing the plates comes out way ahead as long as you don't use several gallons of hot water to wash each dish.

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Raymond Arnold
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Thank you very much. Good to know.
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Geraine
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Honestly I think it would have to depend on water reclamation efforts in your area. Since Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, we have a lot of water reclamation projects that go on. Everything that goes down a drain makes its way to a water treatment plant, after which it is cleaned using seven different cleaning methods. It then goes to Lake Mead. There it is cleaned seven additional times before it makes its way back to us.

Unfortunately due to evaporation and California also getting a lot of the water we lose much of it. It is stupid, we agreed to let California have the water as a favor but now if we stopped doing it we would never hear the end of their crying. We gave them water during a hard time and they came to rely on it instead of taking steps to improve their situation. Meh.

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maui babe
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
A dishwasher can be a double edged sword, but for me, I need need need it...the high heat with in sterilizes my children's bottles...so even though I rinse, soak, and wash the bottles with a brush, I still need to pop them in the dish washer...

I used to boil them, but one small kitchen fire is enough to put that option to bed.

Unless you have a non-standard dishwasher, you are not sterilizing your dishes. Most home dishwashers (even with the heat dry cycle) do not get nearly hot enough to heat sanitize, let alone sterilize dishes. Even commercial dishwashers are required to have chemical sanitizers (usually chlorine) or a separate booster to increase the water temperature to 180F or above. Which only sanitizes, not sterilizes.

You'd be better off hand washing then soaking your bottles in a 50-200 ppm chlorine solution (about a tsp of unscented household bleach in a half gallon of water) for one minute.

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Stone_Wolf_
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Thanks for the info!
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
I've seen a number of studies doing this kind of comparison and its non-trivial.
On second read through, I don't know if this means that the problem is a non-trivial (i.e. complex) problem, or if the answer to the problem results in a non-trivial amount of waste that you're trying to address. (I had assumed the latter on the first read through).
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