Water water everywhere…?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Learning to value every precious drop

The gasping summer heat has got me thinking about irrigation. My home country, Australia, is thirsty. Its edges are crusting up and curling. People are shuffling from the crackling dry Outback to the marginally wetter shorelines, gasping for H20. Residents have to report water usage to their local council, and there’s no car-washing, garden-watering or bathtub adventures happening any more, oh no. Your home country is no doubt in a similar situation.

But what about China? In Beijing, my ayi splashes water around like a shaggy dog on a hot summer’s day. Splash a little here, slop a little there, gush a zillion gallons straight down the drain, run the dishwasher with two plates inside, wash fruit with the tap merrily gushing – no worries. And our family isn’t much better. There’s plenty of deep sea adventures in our overfilled bathtub, complete with super-soakers to saturate the shower curtain. Our plants are thriving, drowning even. Our kids love to fill huge vats to splash dollies in, before Ayi tips it all down the drain. We have waterpark-festation in our house.

And it has to stop. Shame on us.

While Australia struggles to hydrate itself with a population of 21 million (about the size of Shanghai), goodness knows how China supplies enough water to keep its massive population moist. Or does it? In February 2007, China’s Ministry of Water Resources released a five-year water-saving plan to counteract China’s severe decline in water resources. With 20 percent of the world’s population and only 7 percent of global water resources, China has it tough, and things could rapidly become dire. Roughly 400 cities now experience water shortages and 110 face severe shortages. Yet here I am taking 20-minute showers and using the full-flush button on the toilet for wee-wee. Shame on me.

According to Xinhua News, Beijing’s annual demand for water is a gob-smacking 4 billion cubic meters. Seeing as though we seem to use half that amount in our apartment, I’ve had a long-overdue rethink. Things are changing. We are drying up. No more running taps, deep-sea baths or raging rapids down our indoor play slide. Washing machines will be full, ditto dishwashers, and our little vigilante egg timer will perch itself firmly in our shower – tick tick tick. And it already seems to be working. My seven-year-old daughter is now reminding me to turn off the tap when brushing my teeth.

What is your family doing to save China’s water resources? If you’ve been as negligent as we have, super-soaking the neighbours and bathing Barbies in 10 gallon Texan hats, then shame on you, too.

Get thee water-savvy, and dive into these great water-saving tips. Oh, and tell Ayi.

Hot Water Tips for the Home

The Kitchen

The kitchen is a major consumer of water in the home, using around 10% of total household water consumption for cooking, cleaning, washing or drinking.
  • Only use the dishwasher when you have a full load. Use the rinse-hold setting on the dishwasher rather than rinsing dishes under the tap.
  • When washing dishes, don’t rinse them under a running tap. Fill your second sink or a large bowl with rinsing water.
  • Catch running water whilst waiting for it to warm up. Use it to water plants, rinse dishes or wash fruit and vegetables.
  • Plug the sink and use a sink strainer.
  • Use washing up liquid sparingly.
  • Wash fruit and veggies in a half-filled sink instead of under running water.
  • When boiling vegetables, use just enough water to cover them and keep the lid on.
  • The most water efficient methods for cooking vegetables are microwaving, steaming or using a pressure cooker.
  • Make sure your hot water system thermostat is not set too high.
  • Check for leaking taps. Dripping can waste 30 – 200 litres of water per day.
  • The Laundry

    15-20% of all water consumed in the home is used in the laundry, making this room a high consumer of not only water but also energy and detergents.

  • Use a front-loading washing machine.
  • Adjust the water level to suit the size of the wash load, unless your machine does it automatically.
  • Wash with a full load and you'll save 10 litres of water each wash.
  • Use the sud-saver option when you have several loads to wash.
  • Try to use phosphate-free, eco-friendly detergents and cleaning products.
    Remember to regularly clean the lint filter on your washing machine.
  • The Bathroom

    Nearly half of all water consumed in the home is used in the bathroom. 20% of that water is flushed down the toilet…

  • Take shorter showers by using a timer.
  • Use a bucket to collect water while waiting for it to get hot. You can also collect gray water in a bucket during your shower. Use it in the washing machine or to water plants, but make sure you use biodegradable soap.
  • Use a water-efficient showerhead; it can save up to 20,000 litres of water per person per year.
  • Only fill the tub with as much water as needed, checking the temperature as you fill. Use less for kids and pets. Better still – don’t use the tub at all.
  • Leaking toilet cisterns waste litres of water each day. Check for leaks by putting a few drops of food dye in the cistern. If you have a leak, coloured water will appear in the bowl before the toilet has been flushed.
  • Girls – shave your legs before taking a shower and turn off the shower while you shampoo.
  • Guys – don’t rinse your razor under a running tap. Filling the basin with a little warm water is just as effective.
  • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. Use a glass for wetting the brush and rinsing.
  • Read more the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s article on China’s pressing H2O needs at Circular of the State Council on Urban Water Supply, Saving Water and Water Pollution Control.

    Huddle the kids around the PC to play this cool online game – Mr Leaky’s House. Everyone will learn something about saving every droplet.

    First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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