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Be water-wise: Saving water in the home

by Gordon Miller

Water, water everywhere, says the old idiom, but not a drop to spare.  The saying has never been more true, primarily because there’s more demand than ever before for the available water.  There are more mouths to quench than previously – approaching seven billion – and increasingly levels of agricultural and technological development worldwide require escalating volumes of water to grow crops successfully, and to ‘oil’ the machinery.

Porto Heli in Greece recycles swimming pool water

Recycling of water – including that from swimming pools - is an essential and standard practice at the Porto Heli Collection in Greece.

In the developed world, water comes from a tap.  We rarely give a second thought to how it got there, or where it ends up.  But we should because water is not just an issue about water, but also one of energy use and CO2 emissions.

Every drop of water we flush, pour or let drain away is treated before re-entering the potable water cycle. Treatment requires mechanisation in industrial plants that are powered by energy hungry and CO2 emitting – one of the greenhouses gases scientists say causes climate change – machinery.

So, your seemingly innocuous leaving of the tap running when you clean your teeth wastes water, impacts on the clean up process which in turn has an effect on the depletion of the earth’s resources and, some would say, the planet’s very sustainability itself. Gulp! In fact our “water behaviour” is responsible for huge volumes of wastage. For example, watering the garden from a hose, washing the car from a hose, having a bath instead of a shower, leaving the water running when washing the dishes and so on.

A grey water recycling system will be installed at Medina Palms Kenya

Rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling will both be practised at Medina Palms, Kenya

Most of those require ‘behavioural’ change as well as practical measures. The good news is there are plenty of products in the marketplace to assist you to save water.  Let’s start in the home. To reduce the volume of water from your taps and showerheads, buy an aerated showerhead, or fit tap aerators. In doing so you’ll also reduce your hot water bill because the less water you need to heat for your shower, the more money you’ll save on your gas or electricity charges. You’ll also reduce your household CO2 emissions, and water consumption, of course.

If you have a lever handle toilet, rather than the modern push-button type, the water volume – 7.5 or 9 litres – is greater than is necessary (6 litres and as little as 4.5 litres in new toilets) to evacuate the deposits. Instead fit a “save a flush” or a “hippo bag” or even a brick, which will displace one or more litres of water in every flush. Indeed, think about whether you need to flush every time. Some people use the ditty “if it’s light it’s alright (meaning no need to flush) if it’s brown, flush it down”.

In the garden, don’t attach a hosepipe to the tap and use potable water, but install a water butt to catch rainwater, and use that. A water butt costs from around £20, and is easy to fit. Think about the plants you put in your garden. Many Mediterranean species are more drought resistant than indigenous ones, so they will require less watering in the hot summer months when we traditionally experience the driest time. (And does it really matter if your grass goes a little brown? One heavy rainfall, and it’ll be back to its glorious green.)

You could even consider recycling your “greywater” – from your shower, washing up, teeth cleaning, washing machine etc – everything except that from with is dispelled from the toilet. Greywater treatment systems, which are usually ‘buried ‘ in the garden, cost from around £1,000 and can be retrofitted in older properties – although not always very easily as the pipework – which often goes under floors and joists – may need rerouting.

Increasingly, new homes (such as most of those built by members of Sustain Worldwide, a membership organisation of global sustainable developers) are fitted out with a greywater system. The measure – as well as others, and homeowners’ being “water aware” – is aimed at reducing the average Briton’s net water usage to 90 litres a day. Currently, it’s a huge 150 litres per person, per day. The impact of the 40% reduction will save water, decrease energy use and lessen CO2 emissions.

This article was contributed by Gordon Miller, sustainability and communications director of Sustain Worldwide.

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