Water use is the biggest environmental impact of dishwashers.

Photograph by Jiri Hera/Shutterstock

Environmental Issues

Running an old dishwasher can account for up to 15 percent of your daily water use, more if you run it more than once.

Household water consumption has a significant impact on aquatic life, especially when water supplies come from freshwater lakes and streams. The Rio Grande, recently named one of the World Wildlife Fund's Top 10 Rivers at Risk, has been so overextracted that saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico has begun moving upstream and endangering native species. So far, 32 of the river's 121 native species have been displaced as a result of increased salinity. And in New Mexico, supplying Santa Fe with water has transformed the Santa Fe River, named America's Most Endangered River in 2007 by the non-profit American Rivers, into a dusty ditch for most of the year.

Just like the Rio Grande, city water supplies are succumbing to saltwater intrusion, which occurs when increased pumping of groundwater allows saltwater pools to infiltrate freshwater supplies, making water unfit for human use. In response, cities are installing energy-intensive desalination plants, which require more fossil-fuel-derived power that, in turn, contributes to global warming. To date, desalination plants are under construction in Tampa Bay, Florida, and cities across California, with even more plants being proposed for that state.

Social Issues

According to a recent government survey, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages by 2013. The scarcity of any necessary natural resource leads to political conflict, and many states are in the midst of water wars and disputes over water rights.

Out West, water wars have raged for decades, mainly among farmers, who need water for their crops, and city water consumers. Cities are gradually taking more water, which could mean a long-term struggle for small farmers. In Nevada, Las Vegas water officials are campaigning for rights to the states rural groundwater, hoping to redirect 65 billion gallons of groundwater a year to support the city's phenomenal growth rate, a deal which could potentially deprive farmers of well water for irrigation.


Energy Star:

"How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance." Federal Trade Commission and Department of Energy. June 2000,

"Residential Product Guides: Dishwashers." Flex Your Power,

"Using Water Efficiently: Ideas for Residences." EPA,

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