I am so excited to share with you all that I will be starting a new series on the blog called GET GUTSY ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT!
For the past few years I have become very passionate about sustainability and the environment. I think this is partly because I have become so aware of the issues, but also because I have learnt so much about sustainability in architecture school.
I believe that at the end of the day we are all routing for one team, the earth. Our whole livelihood literally depends on the earth and so I believe that it is OUR DUTY to take care of it. That is why I have started this series on my blog. I want to bring awareness but also provide you with ACTIONABLE take aways so that we can all do our part.
So, to kick off the first post in the series we are going to be talking about all things WATER. Let’s dive right in shall we. (that pun was too easy haha)
MOVING AWAY FROM A MINDSET OF ABUNDANCE
Water is something we believe to have in abundance. Because each continent is surrounded by our beautiful blue oceans, far too often we forget that we do not have an unlimited supply of water. 97% of the earths water is saline water, which leaves us with only 3% fresh water. However, more than half of that 3% is frozen water.
Therefore, that leaves us with about 1% fresh water.
I cannot stress this enough. Water is not in abundance, and that is why we need to start being much more aware of how we are using our water.
UNDERSTANDING WHERE OUR WATER COMES FROM
First, let me break down some terminology for us all.
Potable Water: Water that goes through a rigorous cleaning cycle, therefore it is safe to drink.
Grey Water: Water that goes through a light cleansing cycle. This water is safe to reuse in toilet bowls, irrigation, and more.
Black Water: Water that is contaminated with sewage. In order to get this to a potable/drinkable state, it must go through a very intense cleansing cycle. But, this is done in places like California and Arizona where water scarcity is a problem.
Harvested Water: Rain water that is collected through rain barrels, detention basins, and snow melt.
So, now that we have the terminology out of the way, you will be able to better understand the concepts discussed in this post.
Knowing where are water comes from is a very important part of being aware and making change. Until we recognize the problems, we will not be able to make the necessary changes. This is true with all things in life, but especially with topics like the environment.
Around the mid 1900’s people began to use potable water for everything.
- washing their hands
- watering the plants
- flushing the toilet
- washing their cars and more.
THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF A HUGE PROBLEM.
Potable water should not be used for all of these tasks. Yes, it makes sense to use potable water for drinking and showering. But, it should not be used for things like watering the grass, laundry, flushing the toilet, and washing your car.
However, this has unfortunately become the norm and it is a WASTE OF PRECIOUS RESOURCES.
HOW MUCH WATER ARE WE REALLY USING AND HOW CAN WE MAKE A CHANGE?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) we use the following amount of gallons per capita per day (gpcd) on the following things:
- Drinking = 2 gpcd
- Laundry = 8.5 gpcd
- Showering = 20 gpcd
- Irrigation (Watering the lawn) = 25 gpcd
- Flushing the toilet = 24 gpcd
- Washing the car = 2.5 gpcd
That is at about 80 gpcd per person of potable water used EVERY SINGLE DAY.
So, our biggest problem spots in that list are showering, irrigation and toilet flushing. There are very simple and easy ways that we can solve all of these problems without any or minimal use of potable water.
EASY & QUICK FIXES
1. Rain Barrels: This a simple and inexpensive way to harvest water and use it for the garden, watering the lawn, and washing the car. You can go to any local home improvement store and find tons of options for rain barrels. They are very easy to set up, plus it will end up saving you tons of money in the long run.
2. Native Plants/Xeriscaping: Growing native plants is very important to the local ecology system, but it is also a great way to save water consumption. By growing native plants, you will save 35 -50% in water usage! That is a huge number and it can be done with a small shift in your garden and plant selection.
3. Low Water Use Toilets: Many people think that low-water use toilets are just a big money grab. But, really they have been proven to decrease your water consumption by about 18%. So, by simply changing out a few toilets in your home, you could be reducing your potable water consumption, while also saving you money on your water bill.
4. Low Water Use Washers: In addition to the toilets, it may be worth your time to change out your dish washer and clothe washing machine for a low water usage alternative. This is not a cheap fix, but if you are due for a new washer, it is worth spending a little more money on the low water use washers because it can reduce your potable water consumption by a minimum of 5%.
5. Using Less Plastic: Of all the building and packaging materials, plastic uses BY FAR the most water for production. To create ONE TON of steel it takes about 45 000 gallons of water, but to create just ONE TON of plastic it uses 350 000 GALLONS OF WATER! That is a staggering number, and yet plastic is used to package a large amount of products today.
Some simple ways to avoid plastic include:
- Using reusable mesh bags for produce at the Grocery store
- Using reusable shopping bags
- Using glass Tupperware over plastic
- Using reusable bags for lunches instead of disposable plastic
- Avoiding heavy packing with shipping
- Shopping local instead of online (all the extra shipping materials)
- and the list goes on..
IMPORTANT BUT MORE COMPLICATED FIXES
GREY WATER SYSTEMS are amazing systems that allow you to reuse water more than once. This will cut back on water consumption and also the amount of potable water used. The above ideas are all great, but the majority of them do not get to the root of the problem – WE ARE USING POTABLE WATER FOR EVERYTHING. So, I think it is important that I mention a Grey Water System.
The way that a Grey Water System works is as followed
- All the water from our washing machines, dish washers, sinks, and showers are collected into a tank instead of sending it out to the sewers.
- The water is collected in a tank either on site or at a separate plant and lightly treated.
- From there, the water is sent back into the building and used for things like toilet bowls, irrigation, and laundry machines. This allows you to get double use out of the same water.
The following diagram I created for a project of mine, it goes into a great deal of depth on a grey water system.
However, as you can see, this type of system is best applied to a building from the beginning, otherwise it is much more costly to put into place. None the less, it is important to realize that these types of systems exist and that they are becoming much more wide spread in architecture today! If you are building a home or facility, be sure to learn more about grey water systems because it is amazing for the environment, but it is also amazing on your wallet in the long run.
I hope that you all learnt a lot from this post and that you feel more informed about water and the issues that surround it. I hope that this drives you to take action in your life. Even if it is only in a small way. Every action matters and it all adds up!
QUESTION: WHAT WAS YOUR #1 TAKE AWAY FROM THIS POST? WHAT WILL YOU BE APPLYING TO YOUR LIFE TO SAVE WATER?
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Your trusty, gutsy gal,