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New Year Solutions: Water

January 2019 by Georgia Gage

We are writing a review of Jo Fidgen’s podcast on BBC 4 of New Year Solutions in which Joe “tackles the ways in which ordinary people can make a difference”. Episode 1 tackles meat and you can listen to it here.

It’s raining. Again. We live on a very wet little island (and we don’t half moan about it) but perhaps we take our abundance of water for granted.

How much water do you use every day? The UK average is 141 litres per day. This does not include ‘virtual water’. Virtual water is the water required to manufacture products you use for example; one cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water to make – that’s enough for one person to drink for 3 and half years! We easily forget what an important resource it is, how on earth would we cope if it ran out?

Last Summer Cape Town experienced the worst drought in living memory. As the city edged closer and closer to ‘day zero’, when all the taps would be turned off and emergency water rations distributed, resident and tourists were urged to reduce their water usage to 50 litres a day. Could you live off 50 litres a day?

Are we really running out of water?

When you’re cycling home and there’s rain spraying at you from every imaginable angle and your clothes couldn’t hold more water if they tried, it may be hard to believe that, by 2030, there will be a 1 in 4 chance of households in England running out of water. Aaron Burton from Water Wise explains that it doesn’t take much for the UK to go into drought; much of the land in the UK is rock and the water just runs away. London receives less rainfall than Sydney!

Last Summer was the hottest on record but imagine if every Summer was the hottest on record?  No rain, dry, parched and yellowed parks and water bans. Alison Brown, expert in water and sustainable consumption at The University for Manchester, says we’re edging closer and closer to this being the norm. Goodbye fresh summer breeze and wiggling your toes in luscious green grass.

We need to start reducing our water usage.

A chain reaction

Aaron notes that water and climate change are linked and he is right. Climate change reduces the amount of drinking water available. Water is heavy and it requires a lot of energy to pump around. Heating it and cleaning guzzles energy. The more water we use the faster we plummet into a dry and dusty disaster.

Hang on. Less of the doom and gloom please, it helps no one.

Realistically we don’t need all the water we use. Who leaves the tap on when you brush your teeth? Who has a 10-minute shower just to warm your toes up? Why do we shower so often?

According to Alison, the older generation shower every 2 to 3 days where as the younger generations are much more frequent at 1-3 times a day! The average UK shower length is 8 minutes using up 62 litres of water and causing quite a dent in your pocket [1]. 8-minute showers cost an average UK family £416 a year however, the luxury of a power shower would see the annual bill soar to £918 a year. Ouch.

You are not as dirty as you think

The truth is, we don’t need to shower as frequently or for as long. In fact, frequent showering is not good for you. According to dermatologists, it strips your skin and hair of the natural oils that keep it healthy and nourished [2]. Showering every 2 – 3 days is the recommended amount and unlikely to leave you particularly smelly.

We’re not really that dirty, showers have become habitual. We just ‘jump in the shower’ to freshen up in the morning or warm up in the evening. What about a nice brisk face wash to start your day? We can’t deny that it’s nice having a shower, how about just cutting it a little short? Get a shower timer (free from United Utilities), race the clock – how’s that for livening up your morning?

Other ideas include using a washing up bowl and reuse the washing up liquid-y waster to flush the toilet. The same can be done with water collected in a bucket in the shower. Use a hot water bottle to warm up instead of a shower, re-boil the water in that next time (but remember to empty the kettle unless you want rubber-flavoured tea). Make sure your washing machine and dishwasher are full when you use them.  And if you have a garden, get a water butt to collect the rain for use in your garden.

How about this one, take a pee in the shower. You’ll save a lot of water on flushing the toilet. Speaking of flushing toilets, you’ve heard the phrase “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”, perhaps there is some sound advice here.  Toilet flushing accounts for 1/3 of household water use, older style toilets can use 14 litres per flush [3]. Modern dual flush toilets use as little as 2.4 litres. Compost toilets use none what-so-ever and provide excellent garden fertilizer, anyone who gives this a go should be highly commended for bravery and a strong stomach.

Jokes aside, the truth remains that we are running out of water because we use too much. Try and keep a count of how much you use in one day, you may be surprised.

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