Friday, 4 September 2009

Save water, piss in a urinal.

Photo: winterofdiscontent

A new campaign to highlight the dangers of water waste from using showers was launched yesterday and featured in a Guardian article by Ed Gillespie today. This is important for two reasons. First, heating water uses a great deal of energy, second in the home only to heating space in general. According to Waterwise, "the energy used to pump, treat and heat the water in the average family's home produces the carbon equivalent of a return flight from London to New York." That's a lot of carbon dioxide and a significant contribution to global warming.

I want to focus on the use of water itself though, which is becoming an increasingly more precious resource. Waterwise also state that "the South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria." Since 1930, water consumption has increased by 1% each year. With climate change and future population growth this natural resource will be put under even more stress.

One way to relieve this stress is to think about how you use the bathroom. It's common knowledge that showers use less water than baths, but this actually depends on how long you spend in the shower and what type of shower you have (ie, is it a power shower?). As Ed Gillespie writes:

"A typical bath uses around 80 litres of water whereas the average electric shower sprays out about six litres a minute. So you'd have to be soaping yourself vigorously for over 13 minutes to use the same amount of water as that bath. But if you have a power shower that pumps out up to 15 litres per minute, in which case you have only 5 minutes of swift slathering before, from a water conservation perspective, you might as well have had that bath."

So, fans of langoruous showers may actually be using more water than if they were to indulge and soak in a bubble bath.

Another place that may not immediately spring to mind is the humble lavatory.

The most famous urinal in the world, Marcel Duchamp's. Photo: sunbs35

When I was in Ecuador last year, I spent a few days in an ecohostel in the Andes, a place with no electricity, compost toilets, in the middle of nowhere, very idyllic, with beautiful scenery etc. What struck me the most about their set up was the use of a urinal for male guests to pee in to save water. No, honestly; it was something so simple yet so brilliant, based on the fact that flushing the normal toilet uses a lot of water to get rid of what is essentially very little waste. Next to the urinal was a little jug with a marker on it around the 300ml mark. After every toilet trip the guest would 'flush' their urine away with a glass full of water - if that - and top it up again afterwards.

These days, toilets will use about six litres of water with each flush, but by law new homes have to be fitted with toilets that can flush less for, er... less substantial trips to the loo. Typically, these use about four litres of water per flush. But that's still a lot more than the 300ml required for a urinal.

I use my toilet at home at least twice day and have one of the 'eco-toilets', so that's eight litres of water I use every day. If I had a urinal, however, that would be only 600ml. Over a year, that's a personal saving of 2701 litres of water. As water is likely to become such a scarce resource in the near future, would it not make sense to fit new houses with a urinal in the bathroom as well as a standard toilet, as well as encourage owners of older homes to fit them too? Obviously this would only really affect men's water 'footprint', but there's quite a few million of us in the UK and it all adds up.

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