“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

Post title from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Water is really, really important stuff. It’s that clear liquid that quenches your thirst, cleans your body (and clothes and kitchens and loved ones too!) and accounts for about 55-70% of your body weight. Clean water is essential to life, and if you don’t agree, just ask anyone who doesn’t have access to it.

So, if you’re anything like I was, you realize that there’s a problem, but you’re not really sure what you can do. You use water all the time, and everything that you use seems to be cleaned or manufactured with water–but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to know where to start to make a difference.

You may not be able to change how much water was used in, say, making your cell phone or your chapstick, but you can control your use at home.

Take, for instance, that daily ritual of cleansing also known as the shower. Taking daily showers is one of the few eco-indulgences I allow myself routinely. I’m sure it’s something my friends and co-workers appreciate, but I also know that since I do it daily, and since that shower is for longer than absolutely necessary, I’m using more than I need to.

Technically, I could get by doing the ship-shower thing and not enjoy the soapy warmth, or limit it to the 5 minutes per shower that is usually suggested for water conservation. But I don’t, and it makes me feel kind of selfish, like perhaps I’m using more than “my share” in the global sense. So, to try to make up for my not-as-low-as-it-could-be water usage, and to do so without sacrificing my daily scrubbing, I had to think outside the box.

Here’s a list of some tried-and-true water saving methods, along with a few additions from yours truly:

1. Switch to a low-flow shower head.
I hope most readers are saying “already done it!” right now, but if you haven’t, please jump on the bandwagon. There are low tech models you can get for the price of a fancy cup of coffee, and more advanced ones to the tune of $50+, and plenty in the middle. I bought a $20 model at my local big-box store and I love it! We installed it in 5 minutes, the pressure is much better than before since the shower head “aerates” the water before it goes into the shower, and I have saved that $20 many times over. Win, win, win.

2. While you’re at it, install aerators on all of your faucets. They make it seem like there’s more water and increase the pressure, but actually use less water.

3. Get a rain barrel and use that to water the plants, wash your car, etc. Or, if you’re like me and don’t really have a “backyard” per se, try this little trick: find a friend who has cats and a litter box, and ask them to save the big plastic jugs the litter comes in. (You could use any plastic container with a lid, but the litter containers are a really good size.) Clean the container, and then set it by your shower. Every time you’re waiting for the water to warm up (unless you’re hard-core eco and can just get in when it’s cold!) set that container under the faucet and collect the water. I use it when I’m soaking dishes in the sink, add it to the washing machine when it’s filling, and in the summer, I add my compost tea to a full container and use it to water my plants. It’s perfectly good water, and I’m not wasting it!

4. When prudent, avoid flushing the toilet. For some people this means “if it’s yellow let it mellow…” and you know the rest. For others, this might mean if you blow your nose and put the tissue in the toilet, you don’t flush then. Or, it might just mean you use the old trick of filling a clean half-gallon milk container with water and placing it in your tank to reduce the water used per flush. In any case, for most households the toilet is the #1 source of water use, so it’s the one where you can make the most difference. For me, this means that every time I avoid that 3-gallons-per-flush, I get to feel slightly less guilty about that daily shower, because I’m wasting less overall.

5. Be mindful of how much flow is coming out of the tap, and whether or not it’s what you need. That is, do you need a full-on stream to wet your toothbrush or rinse your razor, or would just a trickle do? If you must water your lawn (and can’t use suggestions in #3) do you really need to water it every day, or could you just do a deep soak every other week? And in the same vein, always wash full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher.

These are just a handful of options, but there are so many more to consider: keep a water jug in the fridge so you don’t ever let the water run to get it cold; wash dishes in big batches and fill up the sink instead of doing them in lots of little batches; turn off the water while shaving your legs or shampooing your hair; check your pipes for leaks; install an on-demand water heater; compost instead of use the disposal; mulch your plants for better water retention; wash your car as infrequently as possible, and there are still so many more options!

Each of us can do our part, and even the greenest of us has room for improvement.

What water-saving methods do you use as a part of your daily life?

An original 5 Minutes For Going Green post. Want to know more about Carrie and her photo-taking, engineering, pun-loving, greener-every-day ways? Check out her photos and blog.

6 Responses to “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”
  1. Lena
    March 5, 2009 | 2:11 pm

    Those are all great pointers! The little thing that I do is plug the tub before I start my daughter’s bath and then adjust the temperature once the water gets hot. I also use the bath water to water my plants with.

  2. Is it Easy Being Green
    March 5, 2009 | 3:34 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! I love the idea of putting a kitty litter container in the shower. Rain barrels are amazing! I installed one in a garden where I used to work and was astounded at how fast it filled up. There is a very cool new low flow showerhead that comes out as trickle once it reaches the desired temperature; then when you get in the shower you pull a lever and it comes out full force. Here’s more info on it if you’re interested: http://isiteasybeinggreen.com/2009/01/21/shower-water-saver/

  3. Greg
    March 10, 2009 | 11:38 am

    If you are going to install http://www.faucetaerators.com/faucet-aerators-c-21.html it is important to know that there are various levels of low flow water saving aerators. Typical low flow aerators start at 2.2 gallons per minute flow rates but there are aerators that go as low as .5 gallons per minute. Here is a link to some examples, you can’t buy from the site but it will give you an idea of what to look for at the hardware store. http://www.faucetaerators.com/faucet-aerators-c-21.html

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  6. Jeff Gibbard
    October 21, 2010 | 11:28 am

    I think posts like this are so important because it highlights how easy it is to actually make an impact.

    I just got my wife to turn off the faucet while brushing her teeth. My next battle is the bottled water we get delivered.