April 13, 2007

Use only what is required & nothing more

A little while ago now I mentioned that Louise and I would be taking part in a 40 hour drought, an idea akin to the 40 hour famine that many of you would have taken part in many, many years ago now, the general idea being, to go for forty hours using 40 litres of water. Sure, simple enough, I scoffed. I drink 2 litres of water a day, that still leaves me with a whole 36 litres of water to shower, make a pot of coffee several times over, rinse afore mentioned coffee plunger and cup, clean my pearly whites and soak a jumper or two in a bucket… or so I thought.

40 litres is surprisingly, even for the water conscious among us, a very small amount. For those familiar with gallons, think approximately 10 gallons of water and you get the idea. Better yet, imagine 10 gallons of water in several small buckets and you can see it’s quite a small amount to live off. Planning on doing a load of washing in the washing machine, why, there goes another 15 litres (depending on the model and its energy efficiency rating). Ah, yes, when you consider that an automatic dishwasher can use up to 40 litres of water per load (there goes the 40 litres allowance in one fell swoop), this challenge was quite a feat. And whilst I possess neither a washing machine nor a dishwasher, I found this challenge to be just that, a huge, enormous challenge.

So, just how did I go? Well, first off, we pretended the 40 hours was just like any other 40 hours so as to fully see how much water we use day to day. We pushed and coerced the challenge to the back of our minds, wanting to see how much water we did or didn’t use in that period of time. We currently bucket our shower water out onto the garden so that took care of the garden. Water restrictions have gone up a small notch since my last posting ensuring that we only water our gardens by a trigger nozzle hose or watering system two days a week during a specified two hour window of time… between 6 to 8 in the morning (so as to minimize water evaporation) on a Saturday & Tuesday for even numbered properties, Sunday & Wednesday for the odds. Many of course flout these restrictions, particularly in the greener wealthier suburbs… but, I digress. As the challenge did not fall over the days for odd and even numbered houses to water, that took care of that. I can’t actually recall the last time I watered the garden with anything other than grey water, and whilst I miss the process, the act of watering the garden and its relaxing, unwinding ways, the garden is doing just fine with buckets of soapy water from the bathroom. So to, is my back.

Clothes were washed (as per usual) by hand, teeth washed with a glass of water rather than by a running tap, and toilet flushing, it has to be said, was kept to a hygienic minimum. We even managed to change the water in the fish tank and poured the nitrogen and phosphorous-rich water onto the potted orchids. Showers were short, and whilst soaping up, the water is turned off. So many ways to use less. Ice cubes make for effective means to water plants in hanging baskets, and pot plants can be soaked one after the other in a bucket of water… keeping the lid on pots of boiling water when cooking, installing a water softener to your tap, putting the plug in the sink when you wash your hands. I could go on and on. All these things are simple and free, everyday means of saving water. Everyday means of using less.

During our 40 litre water challenge we estimated (using a chart to pencil in how many showers were had during the 40 hours as well as there duration, how many times the half flush or full flush was used, how often we washed dishes or our hands, cleaned our teeth etc.) that we were closer to 80 litres each! Yes, double the water challenge.

In light of this, here are several water and energy saving tips for one and all, to appease my sense of guilt. I have tried to compile a list of green tips for those on a budget, for those who cannot install a rainwater tank at this very moment nor solar panels on their roof, for I am a firm believer that every little bit helps and can make a difference. Saving water is important to all of us even if you live in areas or countries were there seems a natural abundance. It is always important to treat our natural resources with care, to use only what is required and nothing more.

* Use biodegradable cleaning products. Not only are they better for the environment, they are better for you too.

* Head to Greenpeace for wonderful recipes, such as the ones below, for using trusty Borax, soap, vinegar and Bicarbonate of soda (excellent for cleaning and deodorizing). Again, products that are better for both the environment and your family.
Heavy Duty Cleanser 1
4 litres hot water
1/4 cup cloudy ammonia
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
Mix together. For a stronger mixture, double all the ingredients except water.

Heavy Duty Cleanser 2
2 tablespoons borax
1 teaspoon soap
1 litre water
This can be stored in a spray bottle.

Hospital-quality disinfectant
Use 1/4 cup borax dissolved in 2 litres hot water. Keeping surfaces clean and dry reduces the need for disinfectants.
{Recipes for spring cleaning courtesy of Greenpeace.}

* Install energy efficient lighting and you’ll find not only is this a win for the planet it is also a win for your future energy bill.

* Long, narrow buckets especially for shower units can now be found at many hardware stores. Oates have released an 18 litre Water Saver bucket (4.75 gallons) that sits on the floor of your shower that you won’t trip over. I stumbled across this handy little number for $14.97 at Bunnings. And whilst I haven’t actually tried this as my shower is over the bathtub, I’d hazard a guess to say that it would be very hardy indeed.

* Dry your clothes on a clothes lines… logical, I know, but you’d be surprised at the amount of folk who still fling their clothes into the clothes dryer from start to finish.

* Move your thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer to limit your energy usage. Adjusting it by just two degrees will make a huge difference throughout the course of a year.

* Use less hot water.

* Turn off all stand-by power.

And of course, use less of everything in general. Find tips such as these and many others here (Reduce your impact at home, An Inconvenient Truth.)

Read how others who participated (and are worthy of gold stars) went here and here. I'm off to fix my leaky taps... Happy green ways, one and all!


louise said...

Great post, g...
Looks like my original comment dropped off when this post went to draft. I think I said something along the lines of, "we really should try that 40 litres challenge again, and can I pass on one more handy tip? Try to change your electricity provider over to green power. For those based in Australia, head here to find out more:

Anonymous said...

I washed my car today and as I was doing so I was thinking what is the best way to do it. I used 2 buckets of hot water with car shampoo and 4 buckets of cold. Should I park my car on my garden so not as to waste the water!? OK seriously though. Is there an eco-friendly car shampoo? And is it better to wash by hand using a bucket or is there another alternative? Does a hosepipe use less water?

Love the site by the way, keep it up!

Take care,


cruststation said...

How do you measure the amount of water you use for the various activities? ie. how do I know how much water my washing machine uses?

tracy said...

all so interesting. we were overwhelmed by the amount of water we used when we paid attention to it. made us open our eyes and implement some of your suggestions... thanks!

pippa said...

So that's what I'm meant to use borax for.

My tip for car washing is to get rid of the car if possible and ride a bike instead. ;-)

Era said...

I really enjoyed this post, thank you. I am going to be putting up a clothes line in the back yard as soon as the winter rains cease!

cally said...

I think the fact that you went over the limit makes it all the more helpful as it highlights what huge amounts must be getting used by people who aren't trying to save water.

Althoug I live in Scotland I've always been aware of the need to save water, but reading both your posts on this have seriously got me doing even more than I was before.

I'm definitely more postively influenced by hearing your real life story than I am by all the current TV programmes where some journalist has a go at it for a bit but you know that they will return to their bad old habits when the show is over. Thank you for your most excellent influence!

gracia said...

Thanks, LJ... ever the wealth of green knowledge, you are!

Hi Eternal Sunshine,
If you have a part of the garden you can park your car on in order to wash it then I would definitely do so. Park your car on your lawn (if you have any) and that way all the excess water will run onto your garden rather than down the gutter. This also prevents the shampoo and car cleaning detergents from going down the storm water drain and flowing into nearby streams, lakes and/or seas.

Here are some tips on how to "Green-clean your machine" courtesy of Greeniology by Tanya Ha ( ISBN 0-522-85303-X, http://www.mup.unimelb.edu.au/catalogue/0-522-85303-X.html ).
* Re-use "bath water to wash the car (provided it's not laced with bubble bath, bath salts or other additives). Cars don't need to be washed with drinking water.
* Avoid detergents containing phosphate. A solution of pure soap and water is all you need to clean the muck off your car... Just as phosphates in laundry detergents are harmful to our waterways, so too are the phosphates in car shampoos, This is particularly important if you don't have a lawn and you're washing the car in the driveway or on the roadside and the water is going directly into the drain. It's also important to avoid using abrasive cleaning products, as they damage the duco."

Cleaning your car by bucket is a preferable alternative to a hose as it ensures you use less water. There is also no need to use hot water to clean the car either, and this will help you use less energy. If it is cold where you live, add a little bit of warm water for your hands.

I hope this helps?

Hi Crust Station,
Here are a few common everyday activities and how much water they (approximately) use, depending upon the energy rating of your appliance. Louise will be delving into this in greater detail too, for you all, in her posting next Friday.

* The toilet is a big user of water in the home, with anything from 3 to 11 litres needed for every half or full flush.
* A leaking toilet cistern can be extremely wasteful - up to 60,000 litres of water in a year.
* Conventional showers use on average 12 litres of water per minute.
* Even a dishwasher with a low water use rating can use the equivalent of two sinks of water per wash. Older models can use more - up to 40 litres.
* Don't let water run while carrying out tasks such as rinsing dishes, washing fruit and vegetables or washing your hands. A tap running strongly can use up to 20 litres of water per minute. People who regularly keep the tap running while cleaning their teeth may use about 14,000 litres per year in the process.
( Courtesy of Water Corporation, http://www.watercorporation.com.au/ )

That's great that you found this post and blog so helpful, Tracy. Enjoy implementing those changes... it all adds up!

Hi Pippa,
Borax... ahh, yes, it has many handy green uses. We'd be lost without our home brand bottle of vinegar and our packet of bicarbonate of soda. That it doesn't sting your eyes like other harsh cleaners makes it all the better as far as I'm concerned.

Hi Era,
I'm thrilled you'll be installing a clothes line... it makes great, logical sense. You'll also find the sun is great (in summer) for bleaching towels and bed linen really clean. Just remember to turn your good clothes inside out in hot weather so they don't fade.

Thanks, Cally... we've decided to give the water challenge another crack. This time LJ & I are going to measure out our 40 litres into plastic containers beforehand and only (aside from a 3 minute shower each) the water from the containers. Hopefully our stubborn natures will help us this time around! Glad you've found it all so inspiring, I feel the very same way about your posts too.

See you next time,

elaine haby said...

I'll have to give those green recipes a go. Think I've been a bit too heavy handed with the vinegar in the past..... e

gracia said...

Ahh, yes... me too. I have been guilty of blending vinegar cleaning concoctions that have left the whole house smelling of a fish & chip shop. This Greenpeace recipe is a great one!

see you, g

Lumi said...

Thnaks for this inspiring post; it gave a lot to try and think about.

I added SewGreen to my linklist, hope that's ok.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Great post! Will have to try the 40 hour drounght idea some time. We do minimse how much water we use and are generally environmentally conscious but everyone has room for improvement.

LeeAnn said...

Those are some good tips. I'll have to look into the water saving bucket. Right before I read your post I got an email from American Public Media annoucing their Go Green on Gather Contest. The website- http://sustainability.gather.com/

lisa s said...

you guys are so good. it's inspiring to hear how you tried. i think i would have failed miserably.

it's definitely time to impliment what we can.... thank you

Lorissa said...

Great tips! Thank you.

For folks in the UK, may I suggest purchasing a Standby Saver (http://www.standby-saver.co.uk/). I just ordered one. Your TV box still uses power, even on standby, but this little addition will reduce the power used to zero! Worth it, I'd say.

Karen said...

Awesome, awesome post! You guys have totally inspired me. I don't have a garden yet but if I ever do, I can't wait to get a rain bucket. I am going to try to implement some of your thoughts this week into my life...

Veronica TM said...

this is such a great post, grache! i think you guys did a great job trying and learnt many things, no?
i thank you for all those tips. i live in a city where we have watering restrictions too and we are thinking of doing a desert landscape in the front yard.
thanks again, for the post and for caring.