-Challenge 5-

Challenge 5: Earning our Blue Belt

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This is the infamous EcoTeam coming to you LIVE from the warm and cozy EcoHouse! (If it weren’t for the promise of Thanksgiving, we would probably be hibernating already).


This week our battle against water rages on. It’s very fitting that we earned our BLUE belt, because we fought hard to conserve the precious blue stuff on our planet- WATER!


This enemy was pretty shifty. After days of minimal dishes, two minute showers, and all sorts of strategic clothes washing- we found out that the computer monitoring system only tracks HOT water and not our TOTAL water consumption. Apparently the overall water monitoring has not been set up yet.


So in terms of data gathering, it was a wash (haha- #waterpun). But we are pretty quick-thinking ecoheroes so we drafted a new strategy:


Up until this week, we had never used our dishwasher, doing all our dishes by hand. We wondered, though, if we were making the sustainable choice. Is a dishwasher more efficient? Or is good old hand-powered washing the way to go? We set out to find out.

Although we had no way of measuring overall water use, we assumed that the dishwasher would use hot water, which we do have data for. We ran the dishwasher at night while we were sleeping so we could be sure that the water usage was not influenced by anything else. Our dishwasher was as full as could be with 29 pieces of silverware, 7 plates, 8 bowls, 8 cups, and one mixing bowl. To wash all of this, it used a total of 4 gallons of hot water. However, when we inspected the results of our experiment, we found that at least in one sense hand washing is more efficient- the mixing bowl and one plate were still dirty and had to be rewashed.

We then washed some dishes over a large pot to collect and measure the water it takes to do hand-wash our dishes. The amount of water we used is as follows:

1 plate: 4 cups

1 bowl: 2 ⅔ cups

1 cup: 2 cups

Silverware: 4.5 ounces= 0.562 cups


4 cups/plate x 6 plates= 24 cups

2 ⅔ cups/bowl x 8 bowls= 21 ⅓ cups

2 cups/cup x 8 cups= 16 cups

0.562 cups/silverware x 29 pieces= 16.298 cups

TOTAL: 77.631 cups


…which is equal to 4.8 gallons. However, this doesn’t mean that the dishwasher is necessarily better. Our monitoring system measures water used per gallon, which means that using less than a gallon is counted as no water use. Since the dishwasher ran for three hours, the total water use could have been closer to 7 gallons than 4 gallons. Also, we don’t know how true our assumption is that measuring hot water would measure the total water use of the dishwasher. So where does that leave us? It seems that both hand washing dishes and using the dishwasher are valid eco-friendly options, and with more practice in water-efficient dishwashing, hand washing could beat using the dishwasher.


Dishwasher water use:

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Locavore-ous Lavagirl: As a continuation of the hot water challenge the week before, I tried to keep my showers as short as possible- overall water use means continuing to conserve hot water! I also tried to remember when washing my hands or my face to turn the water off when I soaped up. While one occurrence might not save much water, it adds up quickly when they happen multiple times each day.


Waste-reducing Wonder Woman: This week was interesting for me. I realized how soaking dirty dishes is just laziness… they could probably get washed right away with a little extra elbow grease. What a waste of water to let it soak and then use water again to wash it later! I also paid a lot of attention to my use of water when showering. I tried to turn the water off when putting soap/conditioner in my hair and then turning it back on to rinse. This is a super easy habit to build. (Although I admit this technique is much easier in the summer. Right now that water is such a great source of heat!) Coincidentally, I had to read a lot of academic papers this week about how much water it takes to frack and to produce beef! While I have arguably less control over hydraulic fracturing, I did make sure that I wasn’t eating beef… even when it was offered to me at a dinner for free! Not eating beef is rather easy as a poor college student, but this week made me realize that I need to consciously avoid beef in all settings of my life- not just while I’m in the MacBubble.


Sustainably Savvy Superwoman: I recently learned that the average shower time of US citizens was 8 minutes, so I decided to time my shower as a part of the challenge. I had my water-proof phone near me while I was in shower and run the stopwatch while I took shower. I consciously turned water off when I was washing my body or head and not rinsing anything. As a result, I managed to take a shower just under 8 minutes. A lesson from this is that we may not be able to keep our overall shower time under 8 minutes but we can shower with less than 8 minutes worth of water! I will take this challenge again to make it under 7 minutes once it gets warm.


We’ve answered some important questions this week; Is it better to use the dishwasher or the sink to wash dishes? Answer: both are ok


Are there easy ways to conserve water around the home that every person can do? Answer: yes


Are there still old crew-team onesies in our livingroom closet?

Answer: yes, of course- what else would we wear to fight eco-crime!

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Thanks for tuning in this week for our eco-escapades! Join us again in our next green scheme as we take on the public. That’s right- as we split up and journey to our separate thanksgivings, we will each have an in depth conversation with 3 different people explaining something to them about the environment or sustainability or whatever eco-topic they want! (Should be interesting…)


EcoTeam to AlphaControl: Mission accomplished. Waiting on our next assignment.



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