Ah, what thirsty, over-consuming swine we’ve become. In the United States, we’ve taken conspicuous consumption to unheard of heights: Cons-PIG-uous consumption, you might say.
The website of the non-profit Mindfully.org offers some compelling data worth mulling over the next time you complain about being parched at a ball game. In the Land of the Free, average individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons — while more than half the world’s population lives on a mere 25. (We also have more shopping malls than high schools, and throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily, but let’s save that for another column.)
After positive reader response about my recommendations for low-flow shower heads, I’m here to suggest eight more ways to cut water use. If you get billed for water, listen up: Implementing any or all of these simple strategies could save you quite a bit over a year’s time. But it’s also about saving the planet, too. Go through every item on this list and it’s possible you could conserve more than 50,000 gallons of water a year.
Water-saving toilets. While the name conjures images of a cheap horror flick about a bathroom trip gone totally awry, the Stealth Toilet has only one enemy that needs to fear it: excessive water use. AquaPro Solution’s wonder uses only 0.8 gallons per flush, using air pressure to take the place of a water current. Over a year, it saves up to 20,000 gallons of water over regular toilets. I can’t wait to try one out ... though I promise to spare you the precise details of my experience.
Faucet efficiency. It may seem that all water faucets work pretty much the same, but newer models can deliver a 45% water savings over conventional fixtures. At about $185, we love Kohler’s Forte single-control bathroom faucet. With regular use, it can save you another 14,000 gallons or so of water annually. Are you beginning to see how this adds up?
Dishwasher dos. It may seem counterintuitive, but modern dishwashers use less water to clean a big load of dishes than running a tap in the sink — about 37%, according to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center. You can do even better by avoiding using the "Rinse-Hold" button (3 to 7 gallons of hot water per use), and running the appliance only when it’s full.
A full water basin in the sink can, in some cases, save more water, but there are tradeoffs, particularly when it comes to sanitary conditions. You may have to empty the sink again and again, eliminating any water savings and perhaps using more water.
Roll out the rain barrel. For backyard gardening, this is saving water as nature intended. Home Depot, for example, sells a 105-gallon rain barrel that collects rain quickly, straight from your gutter spout. It will cost you about $110, and cheaper options exist: this 74-gallon model costs $50 and works the same exact way.
Lawnmeisters: Rain gauges. The American obsession with thick summer lawns has reached an epidemic of neurotic proportions. About 30% of water used on the East Coast goes to watering lawns and 60% on the West Coast, according to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation. But why water if the weather’s doing its job? Grass generally needs an inch of water a week to thrive, so if you buy a rain gauge at a hardware store, you can easily measure how much rain your lawn gets each week, and add the rest. (We found one for under $5 at Ace Hardware.) There’s an even cheaper but still effective way to measure how much moisture your lawn gets: Use an empty coffee can.
Fix those leaks! You may think a drip here and there is no big deal. But those drips add up to $12 a year of water consumption on average, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And if you’ve got more than a few, you might as well cut some matching holes in your pocket. The government website also contains helpful advice for picking efficient shower heads and major appliances.
Clean up with front-loading washers. The folks at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation remind us that 22% of indoor residential water use comes from the washing machine. High-efficiency front-loafing washers use just 15 gallons of water per wash, less than half of what top-loading washers use. Over a year, that can mean a savings of more than 3,200 gallons.
Put the lid on bottled water. I’ll have much more to say about bottled water in a future column, but consider this stunning fact: It takes 3 gallons of water to make a gallon of bottled water, according to the Pacific Institute. We know those bottles wind up just about everywhere but the recycling bin, so is there any justification for America’s bottled water fix? We’re not knocking hydration here; consider using a Nalgene bottle and tap water instead.
Photo credit: Brianjmatis