Since the news that the new Mako Hall dorm will have dishwashers in every unit was released a few weeks back, I have heard quite a few differing opinions about the decision. Some people are excited to not have to wash their own dishes while others are confused by the seemingly extraneous choice to add them to the new building. With a resident capacity of over 600, having dishwashers in every room means a large increase in water usage for the university.
Studies have shown that dishwashers are more effective and productive than hand washing methods, both in terms of energy and water use. However, an issue presents itself when applied to the context of an undergraduate dorm because the calculations for dishwasher productivity are based on fully loaded washes. College students, especially those living alone in a single room or a studio apartment, are not likely to even own enough dishes for a full load. Even between two roomates, the likelihood of having a full set of dishes, enough to run the dishwasher at capacity, is slim. Coming from a family of six, I know how fast a sink of dishes can fill up, but college students just don’t have enough dishes to make having dishwashers an economically responsible choice. If used irresponsibly, a huge amount of water will be wasted each time a load is run.
The concept behind the idea of water conservation is really just common sense. Whether you fill the dishwasher to capacity before running it or place a single plate on the bottom rack and turn it on, the same amount of water and energy is exhausted with every load. This means that running two half loads instead of one full load uses twice the amount of energy and water. Even if students own enough dishes to have a full load, it’s unlikely that students with busy schedules and demanding class loads will stop to think about the consequences of washing just a few dishes and wait until the end of the week when there are more dishes.
It is certainly true that a number of students are excited for the dishwashers in the new dorms, but, unless students step up and take responsibility for their own conservation of water, putting dishwashers in the new dorms is ultimately an economically unsound choice. It’s a choice that could potentially cost and waste a lot more money, energy and water than it saves.