How I reduced water usage by 50% after eliminating waste

“Well, honey, I guess we can go out to the movies now that we don’t have to wash the dishes after dinner. That sure is a load off my mind.”

“Yes, but Herb — are you going to actually wash the dirty dishes, for once? Or just leave the clean set, in the dishwasher, as if we always array them so nicely?”

(thanks KBB for the photo)

* * *

So after my last post on water, which was a happily received awakening about how much water I used — nearly 200 liters a day! — I wanted to see what I could do to decrease water usage with a few level-headed changes in my life. The point here, again, was just to inform my awareness of the water I use. The goal here wasn’t to push my comfort zone much or conduct a survival study in bare minimum requirements for public health. No it was just to illustrate that I think it’s typical human behavior, when we’re uninformed, to do things that waste materials or can have negative affects on other things around us. (And I think my colleagues at work can appreciate that I didn’t try a more extreme water restriction experiment).

The question of course, is, “how do I decrease volume used?”, when Total volume = Total flow rate (liters/minute) * Time used (minutes). So in order to use less water, you either slow down how fast you pump the water, and/or use it for less time. Here’s what I tried:

  • Shower: turned the flow down, to a measured rate of 4.1 liters / minute (decrease of 55% from last post). Kept shower duration constant at 10 minutes. [Update:] I also tried a “stop and lather” shower approach (thanks for the suggestion, Michael!), where you get wet, then stop the water while lathering. This cut the duration of water use to ~3 minutes, but alas, unless I need to for drought purposes, during the winter I enjoy a warm shower! So I went back to 10 minute shower, with a slower flow rate.
  • Kitchen sink: stopped pre-rinsing all my dishes, after I learned what a waste pre-rinsing is. Turned the flow down to a measured average of 1.8 liters / minute (down 64% from before). Started a “stop and wash” policy, for the things I use and wash every day (eg, blender pitcher). That means, get things wet and soapy, then cut off the water, do the scrubbing, then do a quick rinse. Often even the rinsing could be done in a few batches of water use, using a swish-and-dump method, rather than having it running continuously.
  • Bathroom sink – by similar methods, reduced the flow by 55% and duration of use by approx 50%.
  • Toiled, laundry, and dishwasher??? Ah…I didn’t change anything in these categories. Much smaller anyway, so not worth focusing on them.

Here’s the difference, graphically. I was able to go from 189 liters to 89 liters (drop of 53%!).

Overall I thought this experiment was easy, quick, and enlightening in several ways:

  • Learned how much water I use on a daily and yearly basis
  • Got familiar with the numbers for individual water use
  • Comfortably made changes that dramatically reduced water use.

Note I deliberately didn’t do anything that changed my standard of living, and yet saved over 50% of the water I used! Wakeup call to me, for those surviving on much less water daily, and how grateful I am, to have access to sanitation and a water supply.

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