14 February 2011

Jan 2011 - Does it need to be washed? Does it need to be hot?

In January we had a water main replaced in our street. Aside from many hours of entertainment for Eva watching diggers, trucks, concreting, workers etc right in front of our house, it also gave me cause to reflect on how I use water. We were asked to turn our water off for a day. This required us saving water to use during the time it was turned off, including putting a bucket of water in the kitchen sink to use for the various bits of washing we do all day. I was confronted by how often I just reach for the tap without thinking, and as a result the first part of my sustainable act for January was to become conscious of tap use and try to ask the question: does it need to be washed? For example, I found I washed mushrooms and carrots I was going to peel anyway, and rinsed vegetables from our own garden that I knew for certain had never been touched with a pesticide.

Because our sink has one tap that swivels between hot and cold, it is often left in the hot position. I takes a while for hot water to come out, so I had got into the habit of turning it on whichever position, doing the quick rinse I needed before the hot got there, and turning it off. In effect I was heating water all day that I didn't even want to have hot. Also I was doing things like putting hot water into the nappy bucket, which at best would affect one nappy before it cooled off. So the second part of my January resolution has been to ask myself: does it need to be hot? 

The third part of this action has been putting a bowl into the sink to catch rinse water, and emptying it onto the garden through the day. Last time we attempted something like this we used a fairly large wash tub and the water got gross quite quickly, so we gave the practice away after a while. I'm finding a smaller container (about 2-3L at a guess) gets full before it gets dirty.

Initial Time: Just some effort to think about my actions. Emptying the bowl takes about 2 minutes each time - more like 30 seconds if I water the potplant right by the back door! Even with this tiny amount of time, it is still so tempting to just tip the water down the sink sometimes. How lazy is that?!

Initial Cost: Zero

Ongoing time or cost commitment: The bowl-emptying is an ongoing time commitment that adds up to at most 15 minutes per day. I am considering putting a small sign near the kitchen tap that says 'Does it need to be washed? Does it need to be hot?' to help me remember my commitment.

Impact: Tyson tells me 1 unit of energy will heat about 16L of water in a domestic hot water system, give or take a couple to allow for the miriad of varying individual factors (which let me assure you he CAN AND WILL explain to you if you let him!). I get close to using that amount of water in dribs and drabs through the day, especially keeping up with wiping up after Eva. If all of that water I am allowing to heat but not using as hot water, because it just gets into the pipe and cools until I next turn the tap on for a quick burst, by paying attention to turning the tap to cold I am saving 1 unit of energy a day - 3.6 megajoules.
Being conscious of the questions means I am using less water. Also, because there is relatively clean water in a bowl in my sink most of the day, I turn the tap on less - so often I just need to dip  my fingers in the bowl for a quick rinse and that's enough.

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