The Union of Concerned Scientists has come up with a list of seven areas in which human consumption does the most damage: cars, meat, produce, appliances, lighting, heating and cooling, and water use. According to them, by lessening our consumption in those areas we can do the greatest good. With apologies for an incredibly unsexy column (dirty dishes, numbers one and two, etc.) let’s take a look at our water use for a moment: thanks to this year’s complete lack of snow we may be facing a dramatic water shortage next summer. You’ve been warned!
In the kitchen, water is mostly squandered when doing dishes. First, learn to do your scrubbing with the water turned off. Then, go and get yourself a dishpan (in the old days everyone had one) and use it, filled with clean water, to rinse your dishes. It’s faster, the dishes will be cleaner, and you’ll use a fraction of the water you’d use rinsing under the faucet. Plus, if your dish soap is biodegradable you can dump that dishpan onto your houseplants when you’re done washing up. If you have a dishwasher, fill it to capacity before running it, and use all-natural soap: if you do those two things you’ll be as low-impact as the hand washers.
Almost a third of the water used in the average household goes down the toilet. I found this water-saving “tip” on one website: “Drop that tissue in the trash instead of flushing it, and save gallons every time.” If any of you out there are flushing the john to get rid of single tissues, well, I’m very, very disappointed in you. Stop it.
To really make a difference, check the size of your toilet tank — if it was installed before the 90s you’re probably flushing more than you need to. Fill a half-gallon, or gallon, plastic jug with water and place it in your toilet’s tank, making sure it doesn’t get in the way of the flushy apparatus. Then, take it to the next level and return to hippier days by adhering to the old “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” edict. We all pee. It’s not that gross, and it won’t kill you, or anyone else, to see it. If you’re worried that visitors will think you’re senile, make a little sign to go over the john. Wave that freak flag high! My two-person household probably saves 20 gallons of water a day by not flushing every time.
When you DO need to flush, try using recycled water from your sink or your shower, (environmental types call it “greywater”) and save even more. A couple of plastic buckets can be used to catch the water that normally goes down the drain as you let the shower, or bath, heat up. You can also leave a bucket under the shower while you bathe: if your shampoo and soap are natural and biodegradable (they should be — non-biodegradable chemicals from personal care products are contaminating everything), you can use this “greywater” not only to flush your toilet but, again, to water your house plants. And, from one who knows, the upper-body workout you’ll get moving buckets of water around beats anything Crunch can dish out, no registration fee required.
A fairly brilliant couple I know (very urbane, totally non-hippie) has even greywatered their bathroom sink. A large stainless steel bowl catches their hand-washing runoff, which is then transferred, when two-thirds full, to the toilet or the plants on their windowsill. Remember, plants are natural air filters, and if you have enough of them you won’t need one of those Sharper Image Ionic breeze numbers to have cleaner air (another small environmental victory).
Now, pray for snow.