Dear Umbra,

I am trying to be so much more green than I used to be, so your column has helped me with the nagging questions. Now I wonder about living in a drought-stricken state with water restrictions and bulging landfills.

Saturday I had a wedding shower for a dear niece and invited many women relatives. I decided to forgo convenience and served everything on beautiful plates, no paper plates, no plastic silverware, no plastic cups. It was lovely, and it felt more environmentally correct than usual family gatherings which create a mountain of garbage. Plus, it didn’t seem to create a lot more effort on my part.

Then as we washed and dishwashed everything, I thought about the water restrictions in Georgia. We are experiencing a drought of historic proportions — so is it better to contribute to the landfill or use the water for washing dishes?

Perplexed in Georgia

Dearest Perplexed,

Sadly, because of the drought, there is a clear answer to guide your immediate future. Your county, DeKalb, is under a drought-response Level Four complete outdoor watering ban. According to the Oct. 15 Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state is considering further water rationing in metro Atlanta, a step which is apparently unprecedented for a major metropolitan area. The winter is forecast to be mild and provide little additional water for next spring. It’s all looking like an emergency.

To wash or not to wash?

Photo: iStockphoto

If you had thrown your baby shower under normal conditions, we might hem and haw about how the difference between reusable and disposable place settings relates to the lifetime use of the plates as well as the way they were washed. I touched on all this as it related to travel mugs, last year. The landfill, in fact, is less important to the choice between permanent and temporary plates than is the energy spent to make and wash both types of plates. To say that another way, the beginning of a plate’s life is more important than the end when we look at the overall analysis of what to use for a party.

During a water shortage, though, water conservation measures take top priority. As of this writing, the authorities have not commanded you to limit your personal indoor water use, but I think you should go ahead and start to do so. It’s not hard. Whenever you come to a conservation choice moment, choose in favor of less water. When you do the dishes by hand, use a wash tub and a rinse tub instead of running the faucet. When you throw a party, use disposable cups and plates, and don’t wash them for reuse. If you compost at home you could buy paper plates and cups and shred them for composting. Don’t flush the toilet after every pee, do it after every third time or so. Check your toilet for leaks by putting blue food coloring in the tank and checking to see whether it appears in the bowl. Fix other plumbing leaks, take shorter showers and no baths. Only run full wash loads of clothing, only use your dishwasher if it is efficient (newish). Cool water in the fridge rather than by running the faucet. Don’t use the garbage disposal.

If you are comfortable talking about what you’re doing to conserve water, you might start to mention it to people whenever the drought comes up in conversation. Just a few things about the house, to help out, you know. Here is a Georgia water conservation site that offers outdoor water conservation resources as well as indoor tips, if you’d like to spread it around. Best of luck down there in Georgia, and thanks for doing your part.

Parchedly,
Umbra