Saving Water (and my Sanity)
Ah, marital bliss. It can’t be beaten. It’s a myth, though – right? Like perfection – something to aspire to but never quite achieve?
In our house we have a deal – one cooks and the other cleans up. You’d think that this would work well for someone who loves to cook – all the fun and none of the drudgery. Alas, it’s not so.
Firstly, I’m an incredibly tidy cook, cleaning as I go, so there isn’t much of a mess left by the time the plates reach the table. Secondly, the way Arūnas washes dishes drives me crazy. He turns the tap on full blast and more or less leaves it that way until he’s finished. (Insert silent scream here.)
I can’t abide waste of any kind and listening to all that beautiful water just gushing away makes me hopping mad. Arūnas, however, just doesn’t get it. “You and your bloody water”, he’ll yell as I reach in to turn off the tap. Marital bliss my ass.
One day I was reading the back of my toothpaste tube (call it bathroom boredom) and saw that it said “Try turning off the tap whilst brushing to save water.” What? I thought. Surely this is stating the obvious. Are there really people who leave the tap on while they brush? Then I thought back to Arūnas and the dishes and had to conclude there probably were.
After the most recent dish-washing incident I tried to think of ways to make the point about saving water to Arūnas. As it happens, he has a major “thing” about wasting electricity. He complains if you leave the light on in a room even if you will be going back there within a few minutes, so I went around the house and I turned on every single light. He noticed and the penny finally dropped.
Recognising that not everyone is water-aware I decided to compile a quick (and hopefully not-to-tedious) list of water facts. In addition, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I have put together a few tips on how we can all save water.
Why bother saving water?
To save money
In Lithuania we have been paying for water for many years. There are two charges – one for delivering water and one for taking waste water away. My outdoor tap costs much less than my indoor taps as it is assumed I will use the water for plants and to feed animals and therefore it doesn’t go back into the pipes to be taken away. A similar system is currently being introduced in Ireland.
If you live in an area where you are being charged for your water is pays to manage your water usage. Ever litre you run down the sink is literally money down the drain.
We have a limited supply
Water covers over 70% of the earth’s surface so it’s easy to think we have a never-ending supply. However, 97% of the earth’s water is salt water and not fit for human consumption. The process of desalinating water is currently cost prohibitive.
Just 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water. Of that 3%, only 0.3% is available to us – the rest is trapped in clouds, polar ice caps or deep underground. This teeny, tiny percentage of fresh water needs to service the entire human population. A population that is expanding at a rate of knots.
Data from here.
We have a lot more people than we used to
The world’s population has jumped from 2 billion to 7 billion within the last 100 years and is set to continue to rise year on year.
These people need to eat
The water we use in our homes for cooking and washing pales into insignificance when compared with the water needed to produce our food. As the population expands, it is not just domestic water use that expands, but the water required to produce enough food for that growing population. The water used to produce food is known as virtual water. Typical virtual requirements for a variety of foods are shown below.
Meeting the growing demand for water requires the building of dams which can have knock-on impacts on the environment, such as destruction of wilderness and altered stream flows. Many rivers, wetlands and bays are degraded, partly due to the high levels of water extracted, as well as pollution from the surface runoff water and storm water flushed into them.
5 tips to save water at home
- Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth or while you’re soaping your hands. You only need water to pre-moisten and then to rinse. If you live in a warm climate (or have good central heating), you can apply the same principle in the shower, turning off the water while you shampoo or wash.
Data sourced from my own highly scientific experiments.
- Don’t treat your shower as therapy. Yes, it feels wonderful to stand under a stream of hot water. Aches, pains and worries all seem to wash away. Reducing your shower from 10 minutes to 5 minutes could save 50 litres of water per shower. If you shower daily, that’s over 18,000 litres per year. Try unwinding with a good book, a movie or a nice long walk in place of the nice long shower.
- Don’t wash dishes under running water. Put a small amount of water into a basin or bowl and wash with that. Set the dishes aside and rinse them all at the same time rather than individually. This works particularly well with cutlery.
- Save the water you run off to get the water running hot. Use it for cooking, to fill your toilet cistern or to water plants.
- Think about your laundry needs. Do you really need one wash for whites, one for colours and one for delicates? Do you really need to wash your towels at high temperature? It might not be good to wash delicate panties in a hot cotton wash but your jeans will definitely survive the delicates cycle. If they’re as old and faded as mine they won’t run, so there’s no need to worry about separating colours.
5 tips to save “virtual” water
It might sound counter-intuitive, but it takes a lot less water to produce a glass of water than it does to produce a glass of fruit juice, wine, tea or coffee. If you replace even 1 cup of coffee per day with a glass of water, you’re saving over 50,000 litres of water per year.
Don’t waste food.
One Australian study found that Australia wastes about 2.2 million tonnes of food a year and that this food contains sufficient virtual water to supply all households in Sydney and Melbourne with enough water for a year.
Plan your weekly menu (or an approximation of it) before you shop and only buy what you need. If you find you always have leftovers that you never use, try cooking smaller portions. Supermarkets are adept at making you buy and cook more than you need by pre-packing meat in trays and suggesting serving sizes on the sides of packets. If you find you have bought more than you need, freeze some for another day.
Consider the virtual water required by individual food types when planning your food shopping.
Consider chicken, pork and goat meat as alternatives to lamb and beef. (Lamb requires twice as much water as pork. Beef requires three times as much.)
There is an iPhone app available which shows the virtual water requirement of a wide selection of foods. I have not tried it and am not on commission (which is why I’m not providing a link), but it looks like a useful shopping aide. Search for “virtual water”.
Eat meat less often.
Try sustainably sourced fish, cheese and eggs as alternatives to meat. Maybe try making lunch a meat-free meal and save your meat for dinner.
Use less electricity.
The average American uses 670 gallons of water a day for electricity, since energy plants require lots of water to cool their systems. Turn off lights and electrical devices when not in use. Only plug your phone in when it needs to be charged. Only boil as much water as you need.