It seems everywhere we turn these days, the idea of being green is center stage. Companies are eager to promote their green products, friends and neighbors strive to live a green lifestyle. But let’s talk another color: blue. It’s time to discuss water.
Water, so essential to life on this planet, is our single most precious resource, and already there is not enough of it to go around. Despite progress that brought clean water to 400 million people over the last decade, the latest figures from the United States Center for Disease Control show that more than 780 million people globally live without access to clean drinking water, and over a half-million (most of them children) die each year due to lack of clean water sources. In fact, half of hospital patients worldwide are people suffering from a water-related disease, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Yet, even for those of us for whom access to water is merely a matter of turning on a tap, water is a critical issue. Pollution from industrial and household contaminants threatens water supplies, while shortages in parts of the U.S. has led to rationing in many heavily populated areas.
Here are eight simple steps you can take to green your water use:
1. Change Your Mindset
One of the easiest ways to start greening your water use is to rethink the water you flush, wash, and drink as a finite resource. People who are realizing that fossil fuels are a finite resource are taking the initiative and changing their habits, and it should be the same with water. Following two easy rules will provide for cleaner, more abundant water wherever you are:
- If you aren’t using it, turn it off.
- If you don’t want to drink it, don’t put it down the drain. In most cases, the substances we pour down our drains and the water we drink are closely connected.
2. Check Out Your Water Footprint
Everyone knows about carbon footprints these days, but it can also be helpful to calculate your water footprint. Water footprints take into account the amount of water it takes to grow, process, and transport products to your neighborhood and they help provide a global perspective on water issues.
Waterfootprint.org has a calculator that can help you determine how water-intensive your lifestyle is. For example, beef is tremendously water-intensive, because of all the water used to grow cattle feed. It takes almost 1,900 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. Meanwhile, you can eat an apple for a mere 18 gallons.
3. Give a Hoot
What can I say? It’s a timeless classic, but Woodsy Owl only had it half right when he said not to pollute. Certainly, you don’t want to litter, especially since much of what you toss will eventually end up back in the water supply or out at sea. But you should also consider what you throw away since toxins have a tendency to leach out of landfills and pollute groundwater sources. Make sure nothing dangerous or toxic ends up in your next glass of water by properly disposing of and recycling your trash.
4. Go With the Low-Flow
There are many ways to reduce water waste in the bathroom. Some are simple, like turning off the water when you brush and shave, taking shorter showers, and flushing judiciously. You might also consider installing a low-flow showerhead, an aerator for your sink faucet, and if you’re gearing up to remodel, a high-efficiency toilet. Together, they can reduce your household water use by up to 50 percent, which will save you money as well.
5. Watch Out for that Bottle
There is more water in that bottle than just the liquid living inside it. In fact, it takes more water to make the plastic bottle than the bottle itself provides.
Even though most bottled water sources are pretty much the same as what comes from your faucet, water bottlers charge up to 1,900 times the price of tap water — bad news for your wallet, health, and environment alike.
Be sure to purchase a reusable bottle that you can take with you when you’re on the go. Nalgene makes BPA-free plastic bottles. Among the best metal bottle options are Sigg and Klean Kanteen, which make bottles from aluminum and stainless steel. Both metals are better than plastic from a recycling and resource standpoint.
6. Wash With Care
Another area in the house where water gets wasted is in the kitchen.
For example, don’t leave the sink running while you wash dishes. Fill one side of your sink with soapy water for washing and use the other for rinsing. Keep the water off when you are not rinsing dishes for human use.
Run dishwashers only when they are full and use a sponge to clean food off your plates, not a stream of water from the tap.
The same guidance for dishwashers applies to clothes washing machines. Do full loads, not partial loads.
7. Green Thumb, Blue Thumb
Lawn care is both a big consumer and polluter of water. If you are into gardening and landscaping, try to grow vegetation that is suited for your climate and won’t require tons of extra watering. Some grasses are more drought-resistant than others, so look into seeding your lawn with a heartier alternative. Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from home lawn fertilizers can end up tainting local water supplies as well.
Creating compost is a great alternative to store-bought fertilizers, and it will help reduce the amount of garbage you send to the landfill.
8. An (Auto)Motive for Improvement
Consider that one gallon of motor oil can contaminate a million gallons of water. Now, think of the tens of millions of cars on the road right now. Even if you aren’t a do-it-yourselfer, it’s worth getting your oil changed regularly and making sure that you aren’t leaking in between services.
If you change your own oil, be sure to take your old oil and filter to a service station where it can be recycled. You can also save water by not leaving the hose running when you wash your car.
One of the many things that connect us as humans is our need for water. If we work together to preserve and expand this finite and precious resource, we will guarantee ourselves a healthier, wealthier, and tastier water future.
Editor’s note: Originally published on March 2, 2009, this article was updated in August 2018.