By Julia Pepler
I grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario. In my years in there, and now in Vancouver, I have never had to think twice about how to access clean, fresh water. Especially here in Vancouver, where it rains on average 169 days in the year, I sometimes catch myself mindlessly using far more water than necessary. I’ve been guilty of thinking that exact thought, “It poured all day today, I’m not doing any harm by showering an extra 5 minutes...right?”
In reality, wasting water does more than just increase my monthly bill. It wastes energy that goes towards collecting, treating, pumping, and re-treating that water, and sends more water into our sometimes overflowing sewage system. I thought I was pretty good at conserving water, but after auditing my average day, hour by hour, I found many areas to improve.
I spent one, rigorous day implementing as many changes as possible, but to be honest, I don’t know if I could pull this off every day. Some of these changes require more time and organization than I am always capable of, but I know that small changes can add up. So with that in mind, here are my 24 hours of water conservation:
7:00 am The first thing I do when I wake up is take a big gulp of water. Instead of switching between various glasses throughout the day, I choose one water bottle and stick to it. This will decrease the amount of water needed to wash any extra cups, after all the average flow rate of a kitchen faucet is 8.3 L per minute, which can add up pretty quick!
My water bottle choice for the day.
7:15 am I’m finally dressed and ready for the day, so I start with brushing my teeth. We were all told in school to not leave the tap on when you brush your teeth, but I take this a step further. I don’t wet my brush before brushing my teeth, only afterwards to rinse it off. The first few seconds may feel dry and unnatural, but it’s a small habit change I could get used to.
7:30 am Time to have a quick breakfast. I skip the coffee for now, as I always end up just having a sip and making more at work. It takes about 140 litres of water to grow and process coffee beans for one cup of joe, so not only do I save water used to make the coffee, but I also save “virtual water”. Virtual water is, “the amount of water required to produce a product, from start to finish and is a mainly neglected and hidden component of production.” (Science Direct)
8:00 am Last night, instead of furiously scrubbing the saucepan from dinner, I let it soak overnight. In a groggy state, I plug the sink and run a bit of water, cleaning the post and my breakfast dishes with no problem. Plugging the sink ensures that I’m not using more water than necessary to initially rinse the dishes. This is a really easy and effective habit to change!
8:15 am With more foresight than I normally have, I know I’ll need to defrost some vegetables for dinner tonight. Instead of submerging them in warm water in the evening, I simply put them in the fridge so they’ll be ready when I get home later. Now, it’s time to head off to work.
9:15 am As I make some coffee at work, I fill a jug of water and put it in the fridge. This means throughout the day I’m not standing with my hand under running water waiting for it to get to the perfect icy temperature. A space-saving alternative would be to keep your freezer stocked up with ice.
10:30 am Each time I go to the bathroom, I make an effort to put soap on my hands before turning on the tap. It’s a hard habit to change, but it shaves off a few seconds of running water. Did you know running the tap for 5 seconds uses almost half a litre of water?
1:00 pm After lunch, I put my dishes in the dishwasher. It might seem counterintuitive, but dishwashers can save up to 18,900 litres of water each year as opposed to hand-washing. The dishwasher is packed, so I close it up and choose the express cycle, which does the job just as well!
Loading up the dishwasher after lunch.
5:15 pm The sun has long set, so I hit the gym for a quick workout. I only fill my bottle up half a litre at a time, no need to get overconfident in how much I’ll drink only to dump the rest out before my walk home. Yes, I am guilty of emptying out my water bottle to make my bag lighter for the walk home!
6:30 pm When I get home I hop in the shower. This will be one of my biggest water uses today, so I work hard to make it quick and efficient—turning the shower off as I wash my hair and shave. The average shower can use almost 100 litres of water! I’ve considered buying a shower timer, but just use a waterproof watch that I already have lying around. A timer can help me get an idea of how long I shower, and set goals for reducing that time. Once I’m all done, I make sure to shut off my shower faucet really tight. It has a tendency to drip, which can waste roughly 75 litres of water per day.
6:45 pm Before I start dinner, I put the laundry on. My building uses old coin-operated machines, which can use anywhere from 151 L to 170 L of water per cycle. So I’ve waited until my basket is completely full to avoid wasting a load.
7:00 pm I’m getting hungry, so it’s time to make dinner. I fill a small bowl with water and rinse my vegetables there instead of under the tap. For my pasta, I don’t overfill my pot of water as I normally might do. Instead, I use a reasonable amount and save some of the water to add to the sauce, which will help add salty starches and give more flavour.
7:30 pm As my dinner cooks, I grab a bucket that I left on my balcony and use the collected rainwater to give my plants a much-appreciated drink. I’ve also heard of people who shower with buckets at their feet to catch grey water for their plants and gardens, though I must admit… I’m not there yet! Greywater is, “the recycling of ‘waste’ water that is generated in homes and commercial buildings through the use of water for laundry, dishes, or for bathing. Greywater differs from black water which is wastewater used in toilets and designated for sewage systems. Greywater can be used for a variety of purposes such as irrigation or toilet flushing.” (EcoLife)
8:00 pm Ok, I’ve put it off long enough. It’s time for toilet talk. Vancouver currently has a combined sewer system, where “stormwater runoff is combined in a single pipe with wastewater from homes, businesses, and industry… In heavy rains, high volumes of stormwater can exceed the capacity of a combined sewer system. The excess, untreated amounts overflow and empty directly into our waterways” (City of Vancouver). So I know that anything put in a toilet, such as toxic cleaning products, hair, or feminine hygiene products, could end up in the ocean and sensitive fish habitats. Throughout the day I am careful to use non-toxic products that are biodegradable and won’t harm my local waterways in the event of an overflow and to only flush the three Ps: Pee, Poo and toilet Paper. Did you know each flush uses on average 15 litres of water?
There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that over the years, Vancouverites have been steadily decreasing their water usage. In 2006, the average person in Vancouver used 583 litres per day, whereas in 2018 that average dropped to 456 litres per day. (City of Vancouver) Now for the bad news. On a national scale, our average is still higher than most other cities in Canada! The average water usage in Canada is 329 litres per person, per day, with residents of Edmonton and Montreal using an average of 225 litres.
Even though permanently changing my routine is daunting, I know I can chip away and improve some of the small habits I’ve formed over the years. In 2015 and 2017, drought conditions in British Columbia made major headlines, as the water scarcity meant that “some municipalities faced dangerously low reservoir levels”. (CBC News) This is a reality that could be more frequent as global temperatures rise. If all Vancouverites take steps to decrease their water usage, we would stand a chance of meeting the Greenest City 2020 target of 390 litres per day and help relieve stress on our local reservoirs. How will you reduce your water consumption? Share your tips and tricks with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.