Given that it is essential to everything about our lives – from the basic physiological needs to stay alive through cultivation of food to industrial development and technological innovation – it can sometimes seem that we treat water with a disregard that does not even recognize its importance. It is as though we can’t envisage the supply every running out. But water is not an infinite resource, and it is becoming scarcer. As such, it is beholden to us all to do what we can to preserve water and avoid wasting it. Indeed, no less an authority than Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said, in 2013, “Water is central to the well‐being of people and the planet. We must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.” Here are some tips to help you reduce water consumption at home and garden.
Check for Leaks
It sounds minor, but regularly checking your home taps and appliances, as well as your garden water supply for leaks can save a significant amount of water. A faulty faucet on a tap causing it to drip continuously could, over a year, add up to several thousand liters of water wasted. A leaking tap is easy to spot, but a leaking toilet not so much. One way you can determine if your lavatory is leaking is to remove the cistern, place a few drop of food coloring into the cistern water, and wait 15 minutes or so. If during that time the dye has seeped into the bowl, you have a leak and need to investigate the cause.
Get in the habit of taking showers rather than baths. They use a lot less water, particularly if you install a water –efficient showerhead. Take shorter showers, staying in just enough time to get wet, lather and rinse, rather than standing in there soaking. A shorter shower time not only saves water, but also saves on the energy costs involved with heating the water. Knocking 2 minutes off your showering time can save you as much as 24 liters of water. Try to use organic shampoos and washes to limit the amount of chemicals going into the water system.
If you make showering your default method of washing, consider baths as occasional treats, but even then use them smartly. Only use as much as you need – the water level doesn’t have to come up to the rim – and keep testing the temperature as you fill, so you won’t have to add extra to get the right temperature. Rather than send the finished-with bath water down the plughole, you could use it to water the garden. You will need to make sure that any soaps, shampoos and detergents used in the bath are not damaging to plants.
Turn Taps Off
When you are brushing your teeth, turn the tap off until you need to rinse. Even better, fill a glass with water and use this to rinse your mouth and brush when you are done. When shaving, avoid rinsing your blade under running water; filling the basin with a little warm water and swishing the razor in that is just as effective at cleaning it and uses less water.
Fill a recycled plastic bottle with sand or gravel and place inside the cistern of your toilet (alternatively, you can use an old brick). This will mean that each flush of the toilet uses less water. Do check the capacity of your cistern though; you want to leave a minimum of 3 gallons in the cistern to ensure a proper flush. Otherwise, people may need to flush more than once, which would waste more water than you would be saving with each flush. You may also want to consider avoiding flushing when you have only urinated (but you’ll need the family on board for that).
At the Kitchen Sink
If you hand-wash dishes in the kitchen sink, avoid having the tap running to rinse the items, The most efficient way to rinse dishes is to wash them all and place in a rack, then sluice with a pan of warm water into the sink. Furthermore, limit your use of washing-up liquid, as this will lessen the need for rinsing. If you peel potatoes or wash other vegetables in the sink, don’t have the water running; fill a bowl and rinse the peeled vegetables in there, then pour the water onto the garden rather than down the sink.
There is nothing like a cool drink of water on a warm day – particularly if you’ve been out working on your permaculture plot. But running the tap to lower the temperature of the water is wasteful, so keep a large jug of water in the fridge so you have a cold drink always at hand. The same applies if you are using the hot tap and waiting for temperature to rise; catch all the water that comes out before it reaches the right temperature in a bowl and use to water the garden. To minimize the waiting time for hot water to come through the tap, insulate your water pipes. This also saves on the energy needed to heat the water, as less residual heat is lost through the pipes.
If you have a dishwasher, only run it when you have a full load. The same goes for the washing machine in the laundry – running with a full load can save up to 10 liters of water compared to a half load. Some washing machines have controls that allow you to alter the water level to reflect the size of the load, so use this facility if you can’t wait to fill the machine. Detergents for use in the washing machine should ideally be organic and have a low concentration of salts. This reduces the chemical load that is sent into the municipal water system, and also, if you are inclined to use the system, makes the water from your washing machine safe to use as greywater for irrigating your permaculture plot.