Water conservation at home: why and how

water conservation at homeInfographic provided by Damien Kenny, Water Filter Men

Americans waste a tremendous amount of water. We need to become more intentional about water conservation.

On a planet that’s mostly water, how can we have water shortages?

For one thing, we treat water to make it clean enough to drink. Then we use it for flushing toilets, washing cars, watering lawns, cooling power plants, irrigating crops, or other applications that don’t require that level of purity.

In those cases, in other words, we don’t so much waste water itself as we waste drinking water. It eventually returns to lakes and rivers, and then to water treatment plants. More than a century of industrial pollution makes treating it very expensive.

For another thing, we don’t get rainwater when and where we want it. Some areas experience massive flooding while others experience massive drought.

California built infrastructure to move flood water quickly to the ocean when it faced chronic floods. Trouble is, that same system flushes rainwater out to sea before anyone can capture and use it. So it is suffering from the current drought much more than it would if it could turn its system on and off.

As individual households, we waste water directly in various ways. We also waste embedded, or hidden water.

I found 110 water conservation tips for businesses and homes. As it turns out, they can be boiled down to a few basic suggestions:

  • Don’t run water when you don’t need it, like while brushing your teeth or cleaning shaving cream off your razor.
  • Rinse dishes [and recyclable cans, jars, and bottles] by soaking them in a sink or tub, not under running water.
  • Use low-flow plumbing fixtures and fix any leaks in your system.
  • Run the dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load. Or for the washing machine, use the built-in settings for using less water for smaller loads.
  • Water your lawn and garden carefully.
  • Find multiple uses for the same water. For example, water houseplants with cooking water. Wash the car or dog on the lawn.

Hidden water means the water used to manufacture the products we use and buy. For example, it takes about 75,000 gallons of water to make a ton of steel. Not long ago the average car had a more than a ton of steel. Even with automobile companies seeking lighter materials to meet fuel economy standards, steel still accounts for most of a car’s weight.

Every gallon of gasoline burned in the car represents 1-2 gallons of water required to refine it.

It takes about 24 gallons of water to make a pound of plastic. If someone buys bottled water, the bottle has more water embedded in the plastic than the drinking water it contains. Not recycling the plastic amounts to throwing water down the drain.

Food and beverages require water for irrigation of crops and for what animals drink over their lifetimes. Clothing and other consumer items likewise require a lot of water. National Geographic has come up with some estimates, including

  • Beef, 1,799 gallons per pound
  • Pork 576 gallons per pound
  • Chicken, 468 gallons per pound
  • Wheat, 132 gallons per pound
  • Rice, 449 gallons per pound
  • Corn, 108 gallons per pound
  • Coffee, 37 gallons per cup
  • Tea, 8 gallons per cup
  • Milk, 58 gallons per cup of milk
  • Wine, 63 gallons per cup
  • One cotton tee shirt, 713 gallons
  • One ream of paper, 1,321 gallons

In short, nearly all our lifestyle choices touch on water usage. Food waste, for example, wastes not only food, but also the water required to produce it. The garbage truck hauls away not only what we throw out needlessly, but the water required to produce it. Waste reduction therefore helps water conservation.

The infographic from Water Filter Men in Ireland shows average water usage worldwide. The US uses more than three times as much as the UK, and British authors complain about their profligate waste of water. The infographic also suggests ways to conserve water and highlights some major water conservation projects.

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