Drought-Stricken Fort Bragg Requires Disposable Dishes in Restaurants

The city of Fort Bragg, California has had an interesting response to the severe drought they're experiencing: they've ordered restaurants to switch to disposable dishware.The city of Fort Bragg, California has had an interesting response to the severe drought they’re experiencing: they’ve ordered restaurants to switch to disposable dishware.

Is requiring wasteful, disposable plates, flatware, and cups really the solution to water woes? Producing plastic and paper dishware also requires water, it’s just water from elsewhere. With more and more drought situations popping up worldwide, ignoring this indirect water usage seems irresponsible.

It takes 12 gallons of water to produce just 22 paper plates. While it does require about 3/4 of a gallon to one gallon more to wash that many paper plates, that math ignores the carbon footprint of creating all of those disposables and the problem of waste when they end up in the trash. Sure, paper plates use less water, but there are other water-savers that avoid the carbon emission and waste issues associated with disposables.

Related: How to Wash Dishes Using the Smallest Amount of Water Possible

We already throw out enough disposable dishware to circle the Earth 300 times per year. Encouraging more waste, even if it does save some water, doesn’t feel like a viable solution.

There are a lot of other ways that restaurants can conserve water. In drought-stricken Florida, the state has put together a set of guidelines for conserving water in restaurants that don’t rely on switching to disposables. Instead, they focus on methods to use less water when washing dishes, like installing low flow spray valves and presoaking dishes. The guide also has water saving recommendations for the rest of the building.

To their credit, Fort Bragg’s dishware ban isn’t the only way they’re trying to cut back on water usage. There are actually seven prohibited uses (from the city’s declaration of water emergency):

1. Defective or leaking equipment using City water must be repaired or turned off. Leaking pipes must be repaired. The City’s Water Department will be closely monitoring water services for leaks and will notify customers when a leak has been detected and needs to be fixed.

2. Irrigation or watering of landscaping with City water is prohibited.

3. Washing/cleaning of any paved surfaces and building exteriors is prohibited.

4. Washing of vehicles is prohibited.

5. Restaurants may only serve water upon specific request. The use of disposable plates, cups and flatware is required.

6. All hospitality businesses, such as restaurants and lodging, are asked to reduce their water usage and are encouraged to launder sheets and towels on a limited basis.

7. All commercial water customers are encouraged to be innovative in finding water reductions that best fit their operations.

Most of the city’s water-saving recommendations seem pretty solid. One other water-waster that it overlooks, though, is electricity. Running a power plant uses 100 billion gallons of water every single day here in the U.S. Instead of requiring restaurants to send more waste to landfills, they could focus on this hidden water waster.

Related: 5 Ways to Conserve Energy in the Kitchen

Over at our sister site Sustainablog, Jeff McIntire-Strasburg has another interesting solution that could help combat the drought problem: toilet to tap. This might sound totally gross, but Jeff explains that some places are already using this method, and the water really is fit for drinking.

What do you think about the Fort Bragg prohibition on reusable dishes in restaurants? Is it a viable solution for a drought emergency, or does it miss the mark?

Image Credit: Pile of plates via Shutterstock

Written by Becky Striepe

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