So far, I've found that living less wastefully is just a matter of tuning in my brain a little bit more to the stuff I do every day.
Here's another confession for you: up to now, the process of washing the dishes for me consisted of turning on the tap, and letting it run continuously until I had soaped, scrubbed, and rinsed every dish. This, I now realize, is a shameful waste of water.
Last Spring I was in Malibu with my cycling team for team training camp with pro cyclist Ina Yoko Tutenberg, a native Californian, who slapped all our hands for doing exactly this, since California was and is in the middle of a rather frightening drought.
I obeyed Ina then, mostly because she intimidated the crap out of me, but when I got back to New York went right back to my old ways without a second thought. It's just mental laziness really. How hard is it to turn the tap off between rinses?
The new method I've found that works for me is this:
1. Rinse any food debris out of the sink basin
2. Stop the drain with the drain stopper
3. Pour a modest amount of dish soap into the basin, and fill it with about 3 inches of water
4. Put a dab of soap on a sponge (not the ideal tool from an environmental standpoint, but I haven't gotten around to addressing that yet) and begin scrubbing the dishes
5. After food is scrubbed off each dish, dunk it in the soapy water, and if it needs it, give it a final rinse under the tap on low pressure to get soap suds off
6. Set it aside on a dish towel to dry
At the end of my dish washing, the sink has no more than 4 inches of water in it, and that's all I've used, whereas if I'd left the tap running continuously, I would easily have filled the sink.
An added bonus: letting the dishes soak in the soapy water while washing the rest of them actually makes it even easier to scrub off the food bits. It's a win-win.
If you're thinking "yeah, this is how every idiot washes dishes", well, it look this idiot a bit longer to come around, but better late than never, right?