Okay, I know. How to load your dishwasher may not seem like the most pressing issue we're faced with these days, but when entire towns are running out of water because of drought, fracking and climate change, it doesn't hurt to refresh our memory on how to conserve water. When LifeHacker posted this video from CHOW which shows the best way to load a dishwasher, I thought of a few points that are worth-considering from an environmentalism point-of-view.
First, don't pre-wash! It isn't necessary and it wastes water. Scrape most of the food off into your trash or compost bin, but don't feel like you have to rinse it completely. This may be an overstatement, but I've always thought that dishwasher soaps are meant to attack food, so if you run what are essentially clean dishes through a dishwasher, the soap has nothing to attack other than the finish on your dishes. And since one piece of living sustainably is making things last, you don't want to prematurely age your stuff.
Second, hand wash sharp knives! I once heard a master knife maker say putting a good knife in a dishwasher was like putting it in a sandblaster. It'll just ruin the blade. Plus, a good, sharp knife can make cooking so much more enjoyable, because it speeds up prep time and can be a pleasure to use. So, if you can afford it, invest in a good chef knife. Wash it by hand. Keep it sharpened. And it'll last you forever. Plus, with more cooking at home, you'll be healthier.
Third, don't overcrowd the washer. This is sort of counterintuitive, because if you can cram twice as many dishes in the washer, you'll be using less water over time, right? That's true up to a point. But if you put so many dishes in, the dishes may not be cleaned, so you'll feel tempted to run the washer again. I've done this and it is dumb. Don't do that.
Lastly, should you pre-heat the water? In the video they suggest running the hot water and garbage disposal before every wash. If we're thinking of this from a water conservation mindset, I'm tempted to just ignore the advice. But, if you are going to do this, don't just have that water go straight down the drain. You could wait to hand wash your sharp knives till the end and wash those at the same time you're warming up the water. Or just fill up a pitcher and water some plants when the water has cooled. (Note: if you have a garbage disposal, you'll want to let the water go into the drain, so the knife option is better.)
As silly as it may seem, these little steps can make a difference. Back in 2009, we analyzed whether washing dishes by hand or with a dishwasher was better for the environment. There is an answer, but whichever way you wash, the bigger point is to be conscious of your use of resources. As climate change continues, water is going to just keep becoming an issue of concern, so the more tips and tricks we can learn to use it wisely the better.