This or That?
Go with…That. Reusable Plates. Looking strictly at water use, it does appear that paper plates make the better choice (half a gallon to create one paper plate, ¾ to one gallon to clean the reusable kind). However, as with all environmental quandaries, you can't exclude all the other factors involved. In this case, energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are huge issues. The only life-cycle analysis conducted on paper and ceramic plates we came across found that the production of a ceramic plate that you can use forever emits 2.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide, whereas using one paper plate every day for a year would result in 128 kilograms of emissions.
Stick with reusables whenever you can, and here are some tips on cutting down on water and energy needed to wash them:
• Upgrade your dishwasher. President Obama recently announced a new program that, come November, will allow states to provide residents with cash for household appliances. If your old washer is between 10 and 15 years old, upgrade to a newer Energy Star-rated dishwasher that will cut your water use by half.
• Don't prerinse. Once you get your new washer, you'll probably realize that it's equipped to handle tough gunk, as most new appliances are. Prerinsing isn't necessary, and it wastes water.
• Switch to green dish soap. Dishwashing detergents can pollute just as badly as paper mills, if you use standard detergents that contain phosphates. Phosphates deplete waterways of oxygen, killing all the living organisms that live in the water.