green your water

Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2007-10-17 13:31

Our water supply was never supposed to be under threat. Water is meant to be in plentiful supply but our abuse, misuse and waste of water has meant that our water resources are currently under extreme stress, and the advent of global warming indicates that it is set to get worse.

Succumb to a green gadget
The easiest way to save water is to install a water hippo in your toilet cistern. Toilet hippos or floating water saving devices (for that matter you can use a two-litre milk container filled with water and a bit of sand to weight it down, and put that in your cistern) save as much as three litres of water per flush or 20% of your total water consumption. Think about how much water we’d save if every household in the country was to do this simple task? Low-flow showerheads and kitchen tap aerators, both of which reduce the volume of water used are another couple of easy, cheap and sustainable ways to save water. See urban sprout’s list of suppliers of water saving devices...

Save your rainwater
Rainwater harvesters – those big, mostly green, plastic drums that connect to your roof downspouts - are the most obvious way to collect water that you can use to irrigate your garden, but they’re certainly not the only method. You can channel rain water into drums, large buckets, old baths or any home-made tank, just as long as it’s covered to prevent water loss during evaporation (if you’re worried about breeding mosquitoes, add a few drops of cooking oil that will suffocate them). For further ideas on planting pits and drip irrigation [soil for life] Where to buy rain water tanks Note: for those of us who nonchalantly use borehole water, this too is slowly depleting as we continue to rob the water table of its supply.

Greywater systems
I once spoke to someone passionate about saving water who told me that greywater systems are pretty pointless. The gist of his argument was that the amount a single household paid for installing a grey water system doesn’t justify the quantity of water saved when compared to how much we could save collectively if every household in the country has a water hippo in their toilet cisterns. But reusing water that is clean enough still makes sense. You can adopt really simple practices that mean that you don’t have to let water run down the drain, like throwing out your bathwater by the bucket load – some innovator should come up with something similar to The Ban Beater [treehugger], or you can buy a greywater system from one of a number of suppliers. A greywater system re-uses your laundry, kitchen wash water (provided food scraps and oils are filtered out) and bath water (known as grey water, as opposed to ‘black’ water, which comes from your toilet and needs another type of treatment entirely) for the garden. Grey water makes up 50-80% of residential waste water, so this could be a great saving.

Alternative toilets
An average toilet flush sends 11 litres of water down the drain. You can cut back on this with a toilet hippo, bend the float arm in your cistern down, or buy another type of toilet that doesn’t flush so much away. There is a good selection of dual flush and low flow toilets on the market – available at stores like Builders Warehouse, Builders Express and Build it or buy them online from suppliers like Pegasus - and Plumblink. You can also get what’s known as a ‘toilet stop’, which converts your standard toilet to demand/dual flush toilets. Waterless urinals are fast becoming standard in many new buildings throughout the world as people conform to green standards of building. There are also other eco toilet options, like the enviro loo - a non-flush dry sanitation system – and the afrisan toilet – which uses no water at all and saves the average household some 200 litres per day. Composting toilets (also known as biological, dry and waterless toilets) are a controlled way of composting excrement, toilet paper, carbon additive and, optionally, food waste. [what is a composting toilet] They are also fast becoming very fashionable amongst the ‘green’ set, and, contrary to popular opinion, do not smell. See urban sprout’s suppliers of eco toilets .

Saving water in the garden
Convert your garden to a water-wise garden using indigenous plants. Whilst this might take a little tender loving care and water in the first year, as the plants establish themselves, they use a lot less water in the long run. If you must have a lawn then water deep and infrequently and early in the morning when water loss from evaporation is minimal. Switch from Kikuyu to Buffalo grass in the Cape (it needs less water and less mowing) and cut back on the size of your lawn areas. Invest in a drip-irrigation system – according to soil for life, only two out of every 100 drops of water actually reach the roots of a plant – 98% is wasted through run-off. Plants can also be grouped in zones according to their water requirements, which helps save water. And mulch, mulch, mulch!

Saving water in your pool
If installing a pool get an efficient pool pump that uses less water in its backwash cycle. Keeping the filter clean will also mean less backwashing which will save water. If you need to refill your pool because of repairs, get a professional to check there are no leaks.

Use a pool cover to stop water evaporating from your pool. This is especially true in summer or if the wind blows over your pool. The flow of wind can also be reduced by planting shrubs, trees or building a fence. A pool cover will also keep the water somewhat warmer.

If you have a heated pool and can bear it turn down the thermostat slightly as the higher the temp the greater the evaporation will be. A rainwater tank can also be used to top up your pool.

Splashing about or having lots of people in the pool will obviously mean some water is spilled: if you have an overflow pipe this could be blocked to prevent some water escaping.

Washing your car
The conventional car wash is often more water efficient than washing your car at home, which can use up to 300 litres if you’re using a hosepipe, and 30 litres if you’re using a bucket. Waterless carwash systems are sometimes set up in parking garages throughout South Africa – so investigate this as an option. (Just how ‘green’ their products are is debatable, but the capacity to save an enormous amount of water may offset the use of chemicals).

Reject bottled water
According to the department of water affairs and forestry [IOL], the standard of drinking water in South Africa does not warrant buying bottled water. The quality of our tap water aside it is the quality of some bottled water that is questionable. We’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes in a big way. A four-year study of the bottled water industry, carried out by NRDC , revealed major gaps in bottled water regulation and concluded that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water. Up to a quarter of the bottled water we buy is actually thought to be purified tap water, and recent research also raises concern about the plastic in water bottles posing a health risk. Chemicals called phthalates are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones and can leach into bottled water over time. If you’re worried about the quality of your drinking water, then there are various water filters you can invest in, rather than adding to the increased number of water bottles that end up in landfill sites throughout the world. Read the article on AlterNet about how restaurant owners and cities are cancelling their bottled water contracts and switching to tap.

Quick & easy ways to save water:

fix all your leaks – a dripping tap can waste as much as 90 litres a week
change the washers on all your sinks and showers as a dripping or leaking washer wastes water
close the tap when brushing your teeth, shaving or washing your face – letting it run can waste 9 litres a minute
• only use your washing machine when you have a full load
shower instead of bathing (a 5 minute shower every day can save up to 400 litres a week)
think before you run used water down the drain, you could re-use it for watering house plants or in the garden...
read your water metre – finding out just how much water you’re using may surprise you
keep your eyes peeled – report leaking taps, broken hydrants and any waste

If you enjoyed reading this green guide, then you’ll also enjoy:

green your heating & cooling
green your lighting
green your cleaning
green your personal care
green your baby
eating & shopping organic in Jo’burg
eating & shopping organic in Cape Town