Waste not, water not
Hot on the heels of the hottest day EVER in the UK (topping 40.3°C in Lincolnshire) it’s no surprise that we have a water shortage. It may seem like nothing new. Hosepipe bans are a pretty standard part of the British summer. But usually we wonder why, when it rains for so much of the year.
This year I don’t think anyone can question the cause. While it’s nice not to need a backup plan for every outdoor event this summer, these long and extreme spikes in heat are becoming more common. The Environment Agency has said that we could face chronic water shortages within 25 years. Even now, the south-east has less clean water per person than Sudan or Egypt.
How much water do you use?
Apparently 46% of people think their household uses under 20 litres of water a day – that’s about the amount you’d use taking a 2-minute shower. In reality, the average is more like 150 litres per person and the government needs us to cut this down to 110 litres by 2030.
To get a better idea of how much you use water companies like Thames Water have online water saving calculators. After a quick survey you can find out roughly what you’re using but also what you could save. All you need to do is follow some simple water saving tips.
Water saving tips
Tip #1: Bath v shower
The endless debate! Usually a 5-minute shower uses around a third of the water of a bath. That’s unless you have a power shower and enjoy a 20+ minute session! If you’re on the fence, run a quick test where you have a shower with the plug in and see which uses more for you. And if you’re a committed bath soaker, consider switching to a shower once or twice a week.
Tip #2: Shorten your shower
Dermatologists suggest that the recommended maximum shower time is between 5 and 10 minutes. That’s long enough to cleanse and hydrate the skin. Any longer and you actually begin to strip your skin of moisture. Try to cut your shower time down and you’ll save around 14 litres per minute.
Tip #3: Go with the flow
Install tap aerators in your kitchen, bathroom and shower head to reduce the water flow but not the pressure. These can cut the amount of water you’re using by 60%. Many water companies are now providing them for free so contact them to see. If not, they’re inexpensive and you can get different flow rates depending what the tap is used for.
Tip #4: Tap on, tap off
A third of us leave the tap on while we’re brushing our teeth, wasting 24 litres of water a day. In places like Bermuda, where fresh water is precious, it’s standard practice to turn the tap off when brushing teeth, soaping in the shower and washing dishes. Oh, and they’re also advised to selectively flush the toilet after very dry spells!
Tip #5: Don’t be a drip
It sounds obvious but look out for dripping taps and leaky toilets. A leaky loo can waste the equivalent of five full bathtubs of water every day. Some water companies also send out free Save-a-Flush bags that you can use if you don’t have a dual flush toilet. You just put one in the cistern and the granules expand in the water so the toilet doesn’t have to fill up so much each time. This can save 4,800 litres of water a year.
Tip #6: Watering CAN!
Try to reuse water wherever possible. Install a water butt in the garden so you don’t need to use the hose so much. Put a bowl in your sink to collect the water when you’re rinsing vegetables or running the tap to get it hot or cold. This can all be used to water your garden and houseplants. You can also reuse shower and bath water, known as grey water, in the garden, just not on fruit and vegetables.
Tip #7: Be an early bird
For your watering to actually make a difference, try to water your garden at cooler times of day. Between 5am and 9am is the best time to give plants a drink before the sun comes out and they start to transpire. If you water when it’s sunny and hot most of the water will just evaporate so you’ll need more to do the job.
Tip #8: Embrace the natural look
We know a golden lawn isn’t the best look but try to resist turning on the sprinklers and definitely don’t mow. Grass naturally goes dormant to conserve water when there isn’t any rain and as it will still be alive underground it should green up as soon as it does.
Watch this space
While we’re doing what we can to save water, wouldn’t it be helpful if water efficiency was rated in the same way as energy ratings are on electrical appliances? That might just be the case soon. The Energy Saving Trust has been commissioned by the government and water companies to explore different options for a universal water labelling system.
The bigger picture
The fact is, one way or another, we need to do everything we can to respect our water resources. And it’s not just so something comes out when we turn the taps on. It’s essential for all forms of life supporting a massive eco-system of plants and wildlife, and is responsible for photosynthesis which produces breathable oxygen.
So have a think about the ways you can save some water, not just when it’s hot but year round.