12 November 2011

Rethinking water

Over the past few months I have noticed that my thinking about water has been shifting. We've implemented lots of water-saving steps over the past three years (see here, here, here, here, here, here or here) but my thought patterns are only just catching up.

Three things are new:
(1) I am almost always conscious when I am using water. This may sound obvious, but how often do you turn on a tap without really noticing that water, our precious resource, is being used?

(2) When approaching a task that requires water, I find myself first considering whether it needs 'first' water or can use 'second' or even 'third' water. For example:

Drinking and cooking - first water, every time.
Showers - first
Garden - second (third if it hasn't had chemicals in it)
Rinsing items for the recycling - third
Handwashing delicate items - first
Soaking nappies - second
Flushing toilets - third 
Teeth - first
Hand washing - first or second

(3) Before I allow water to go somewhere it can't be reused (down the drain, into the garden) I do a mental check of whether it can be caught and, if so, whether it could be used again if it was.

I find there are still jobs that probably don't need the very cleanest water that I haven't adjusted to using recycled water for. Mopping floors is one - the water is dirty after the first swipe of the mop, but I still struggle to start with water from, say, the washing machine.
Here are some examples of how water might get used multiple times in our house:

first: shower
second: toilet

first: handwashing clothes
second: soaking nappies (just water, no chemicals)
third: garden

first: rinsing vegetables
second: bowl in the sink for dipping sticky fingers in
third: rinse out something for the recycling

The photo above is a hand-washed item dripping into seedling trays.

We've started capturing washing machine water again to keep up with the demand for recycled water - some days we were running out and having to use water straight from the tap for 'second water' tasks!

Initial Time:You cannot change your habitual thought patterns quickly. I think 2-3 years of small water-saving changes were necessary for this subconscious thinking shift to take place.

Initial Cost: Zero (unless you need to buy buckets)

Ongoing time or cost commitment:This depends on the task, but usually if I analyse it there is an equivalent time in the task if the water is coming from the tap. For example, decanting water from buckets into a watering can and watering our pots and planters took me about 15 minutes today, so I initially thought 'yes, it adds time', but waiting for the can to fill from the tap takes about the same amount of time.

There is an ongoing cost saving as water usage is reduced - especially where it is hot water, as I have discussed before.

Impact: Based on how much water is waiting in buckets right now and what I've already used this morning, I estimate we will use about 100L of recycled water today. We recycle less in winter as we don't need to water the garden. Assuming we use half this much recycled water for half the year, we are saving/ recycling around 27,000 L of water in a year. 

Finally a pic for the person who asked Tyson how exactly we capture water in the shower.