What planet are you on?'s Fiona Regan, a Professor at the DCU Water Institute, explains how Irish households are wasting water and what we can do to change our bad habits.
Water is the most precious commodity in the world, but it is not the most valued. We are wasting water. All of us, everywhere on the planet. In Ireland, we might live in a wet climate, but our management of this invaluable resource needs to be improved – urgently – because too much of it runs down the drain. Every household needs to transform its water use for the sake of our children. Let's call this family project Water Island.
In the programme, we meet three very different families, learning about their water consumption, and setting them targets to improve their water use behaviour.
According to reports on gathered data Irish people use on average 120-130 litres of water per person per day. This is lower than the EU average, but still higher than the level of 100 litres per person per day that we would like to see because our resources are struggling to meet demand. We are asking everyone to try and use only what they need.
The amount of water you use depends on your family circumstances, the kind of home you live in and even what you do for a living. But everyone can play a big role in reducing usage and this has huge benefits.
Irish households use too much water. Or do they?
In a typical home, almost 50% of all the water you use indoors is in the bathroom. This makes it a great place to start saving water. Toilet flushing, showering and bathing and teeth brushing are the everyday things we use water for in the bathroom.
To measure the amount of water used by the families, each household was fitted with a number of meters to record the amount of water used in the bathroom, utility and kitchen areas. We looked at results from the first week of measurement and found that the Cullens from Dublin used more than 2,800 litres of water in the six days they were monitored. This included the long showers but didn’t include the bottled water they purchased each week. They did not like to drink their tap water because they were concerned about its quality.
Look at the figures.
Taking a 20-minute shower sounds like a really long time but, in our assessment of our families, we find that lengthy shower times are the norm. Dermatologists suggest that 10 minutes and no longer, is good for our health as shorter, cooler showers are generally better for your skin. Also, overusing soap or showering in hot water can negatively impact your skin and hair.
We are asking our families to think about reducing showers to under 5 minutes as showers are currently responsible for 30% of our water use. An average shower uses about 10 litres of water per minute, and some showers can use a lot of water, particularly power showers. A very simple shower timer can be used to help reduce the time you spend in the shower. Taking shorter showers is one of the best ways to help save water.
There are a number of affordable and easy-to-use water-saving devices that can help save water in homes. Some might choose to use a toilet cistern bag. This is a device that fits in the water cistern of your toilet and is filled with water which causes it to expand and displace volume in the tank. This means that every time you flush the toilet, less water is used.
Some toilets are fitted with dual flushing systems. This gives people the option to use a smaller amount or volume of water per flush instead of the full flush volume all the time, in order to save water. Most modern toilets are fitted with a dual flush system, but they can also be retrofitted to existing systems.
Two of our families wash dishes in the sink and leave the tap running, wasting litres upon litres of water. It is always better to place a basin in the sink or plug the sink and wash all the dishes together and then rinse. Rinse water could even be used to water plants. Keep in mind, the kitchen tap and dishwasher account for about 12% per cent of water used in the home.
Also, it saves up to 6 litres of water per minute if we turn off the tap when brushing teeth or shaving. By keeping a jug of tap water in the fridge, a cool drink is at hand rather than running the tap until the water reaches the temperature you like. This could save up to 10 litres of water per day. Use a filter jug if you prefer, and if you like it fizzy - you can get yourself an easy to use carbonation system.
Remember, it is better to run the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads and save both water and energy.
Many people buy bottled water because they are not keen on drinking the water from their tap for a variety of reasons. What they don’t realise is that many of the bottled waters have gone through a similar treatment process as our tap water. So why are we buying it in bottles – adding to our waste and probably exposing ourselves to leaching chemicals from the plastic?
We have taken a visit to a water treatment plant to see the processes involved in treating water from the Liffey that reaches hundreds of thousands of Dublin homes. The technology and energy involved in providing good quality water to the tap means that we need to encourage people to get "back to tap". There is nothing like a nice cool glass of water from the tap when you need it.
Top tips for reducing your water waste:
To aim for 100 litres per person per day would mean we need to have:
- Short showers (no more than 10 mins)
- Save on flushing the loo by investing in a dual-flush loo or a cistern bag
- If you wash up by hand use a bowl
- If you use the dishwasher, run it on economy mode
- Ditch the water bottles and get 'back to tap'
Boil Water Notice
Most of the time "Tap Water is Best". I encourage people to drink water from the tap, because, in Ireland – and in Europe in general – we have a good supply. Most of the time. At the moment, of course, hundreds of thousands of households are boiling water because of suspected bacterial contamination.
The first piece of advice is to obey the boil notices if you are in the affected areas. This sounds obvious but there is a good reason why we are being told to keep away from tap water. There is a concern that it may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. So, only use water which has been boiled.
Next, be sure to boil the water and let it cool properly before use, particularly when there are young children around. Do not use water from the hot tap. This comes from the same source as our cold water.
Use the cooled water for anything that may lead you to swallow it. Drinking is an obvious one but also brushing of teeth, ice trays or bags and preparation of salads. Remember to pour out any water you may have in a filter jug and use boiled or bottled water instead.
It is perfectly alright to go out and buy bottled water. Just bear in mind that we are still trying to encourage people to use tap water, even if it is boiled. Also, we are trying to reduce the amount of plastic because it results in a very full recycling bin!
Follow the same process for pets. They may get sick from tap water so give them the boiled and cooled variety too.
Please remember to always follow the boil water notices. But remember tap water is best - most of the time.