Finally, I can feel (sort of) smug about not using cloth diapers. According to an article in the October issue of Wired magazine, washing cloth diapers at home uses 6,946 gallons of water per year. Sending them out to a diaper-cleaning service (and who wouldn't, given the choice?) raises the water consumption to 17, 908 gallons per year. Your energy consumption and annual solid and water waste numbers do go up with disposables, but the recommendation is to use them if you live in a drought-prone area. Like, say, California.
At the grocery store, I always choose paper over plastic, and until today, I felt pretty good about that. Turns out that's not always such a great idea either. Sure, we end up tossing more plastic (1.6 million tons) than paper (1 million tons), but it takes only 600 BTUs to make one plastic bag versus 2500 BTUs for a paper bag. Time to buy a cloth bag or, better still, put some of those trade show bags to good use.
Do you still rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Or worse, actually wash them before loading? Using a standard dishwasher, you're using 3,473 gallons of water and 735 kilowatt-hours every year. Wash them by hand with the water running and use up 5,974 gallons of water and 1,243 kilowatt-hours. The best bet--and I know my mother would cringe at this one--is to wash them in a high-efficiency dishwasher WITHOUT rinsing: 868 gallons of water, 276 kwh per year.
But don't just listen to me--read it for yourself! There's a nice little surprise in there about your coffee cup, too.