Water is our most valuable resource, and my greatest fear is living through a water crisis.
Unfortunately for me, water scarcity already affects every continent. In 2017 South Africa experienced a water crisis so severe the government announced “day zero” was coming – the day the water levels would be so low that the taps would be turned off. Today England is facing water shortage by 2050, unless drastic measures are taken. Even the US is facing water scarcity issues. And according to UN Water, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services.
Whilst nearly 70% of the world is covered by water, only 2.5% of it is fresh, with just 1% of that being easily accessible – and freshwater is what we rely on to drink, bathe, grow food, and live.
Only wash clothes and towels when they really need it
Nearly 3,800 litres of water are used through the lifetime of a pair of jeans, which is the equivalent of 109 five-minute showers. By wearing jeans 10 times before washing, water and climate change impact can be reduced by 77% for Americans, and 75% for the British and French. according to the Lifecycle Assessment.
I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my days sitting (at a desk, during my commute, on the sofa…) with a bit of walking thrown in. (Most days I reach about 6,000 steps without trying – nowhere near the healthy 10,000 step target.) Which isn’t really a sweaty existence, and doesn’t warrant washing these clothes every time they’re worn. (Except for underwear and socks – those need TLC! So, I hang up and re-wear until they smell, and then I wash when they’re dirty.
The same goes for my shower towels; I tend to re-use them 3-5 times before washing. For face clothes, I go 3 uses before washing: one morning face wash, one evening face wash, and a final body wash in the shower before it gets to the laundry basket.
And if you’re worried about my lack of exercise, don’t fret for too long! I practice yoga regularly, and will re-wear these clothes if I don’t get too sweaty. (Ex: if I attend a meditation today, I’ll wear the same outfit to yin tomorrow, and then the next day I’ll wear to a sweaty vinyasa before it gets washed.)
Instead of getting stressed about what I can’t control, I’m learning about what I can do to help conserve water. This post includes tips & tricks about what we can each do to contribute to slowing down the water crisis.
Use cold or warm water to wash laundry instead of hot water
The majority of energy used in washing machines is from warming the water, so if you can wash clothes on a cold or warm wash then you’ll be helping to conserve. Bonus: cold and warm water tends to be kinder to clothes, and colours won’t fade as much. I know: I’ve been swearing by cold washes for my clothing for years.
Turn off taps between rincing while brushing teeth
As a child, my parents always coached us to turn the tap off between rinses while brushing our teeth. To the point that I never thought anything of it until I was at an airport and saw someone brushing her teeth in the sink, letting the water flow while she brushed. I couldn’t help but think about how much water was being wasted, so I’m here to remind you: please turn the taps off between rincing while brushing teeth!
Shop less, buy better – then shop less, mend more
The fashion industry is one of the world’s most polluting, supposedly beaten only by oil. Textile manufacturing uses heaps of water, much of which gets flushed into waterways laden with contaminants such as bleaches, acids, inks and dyes. If that water was drinkable, it’s not anymore.
When it comes to buying better, we have so many choices from choosing more sustainably and ethically produced items, to buying natural fabrics that won’t pollute our waters with each wash (polyester and nylons are made of plastics, which release microplastics into the water with each wash). Organic cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp, linen, silk, wool and Lyocell all rate fairly well.
Wear and tear is inevitable, so when clothes start to wearout, repair and upcycle as much as possible to reduce waste and the need to replace.
But if you can get away from buying new – and buy pre-loved, second hand, vintage, or used instead – that’s even better for the planet because that purchase hasn’t come with a “new” production impact price tag.
Keep showers short, and don’t take one daily
Growing up in the US I was encouraged to take a shower and wash my hair daily, and I remember being shocked when I came to the UK for the first time and none of my European friends showered daily. Most washed up in the sink and washed their hair two or three times per week. None of them smelled or developed medical conditions from not taking a full shower every day.
Eventually I fell in line and started showering every other day, and after a while of doing this the constantly dry skin on my arms, legs, stomach, and back disappeared. My hair also felt less dry. Turns out, showering daily isn’t even necessary and could be damaging to skin and hair.
In the UK, the average shower lasts 8 minutes, using 62 litres of hot water, compared with 80 litres in an average bath. (If a power shower head is used, the amount of water usage increases even more.) This breaks down to 7.75 litres of hot water per minute, so if we can keep showers shorter at only five minutes this would save, according to these figures, 23.25 litres. Though it should be noted the suggestion in the article is to keep showers to four minutes!
My top tips for taking shorter showers is to soap up hair with shampoo before stepping in, turn water off while lathering, and if you shave – turn the tap off while shaving. I also turn the shower off while letting conditioner soak in for 2-3 minutes, and instead often use this time to brush my teeth instead.
Eat less meat
Neither Jeff nor I are currently vegetarians, but we have a predominantly plant based diet for most of our meals, and will regularly go days as unintentional vegetarians. Whilst this could have benefits for our diet and health, it also plays a positive role in water conservation; according to a report published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2013, 70% of water is used for agriculture.
The same report states that producing 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, whilst producing 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water. Which means meat production takes up more water than vegetable production.
Side note: the report also states that as much as 50% of all food produced each year is wasted.
Re-use “waste” water
You know how when you boil pasta or veg, and when it’s time to drain you place the colander straight in the sink? Well, not anymore. Put the colander atop another container and catch this water to re-use for watering plants or giving life to a bouquet of blooms in a vase. At the same meal I’ve re-used this water for boiling veg, and the next morning I’ve re-used pasta water for hard boiled eggs.
This isn’t everything that can be done to save water, but it’s a good start. What are your top tips are tricks for water conservation? Please share in the comments below!
Much love, Katie xo