Thursday, July 30, 2009

Water conservation

Did you know that only 3% of the world's water is fresh water? How about that 1.7 million people die each year around the world because of their lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and lack of hygiene? Or that in the next 20 years the USA anticipates water shortage problems in over half of the country? AND that there are actually people IN the USA that do not have indoor plumbing and easy access to safe drinking water. Here's the topper: about 1 BILLION, yes, 18% of the population on Earth lack access to safe drinking water. Crazy, isn't it?

So, what can I do about it? I reflect on these horrifying statistics and I feel completely powerless. Large numbers like these tend to set hope just far enough out of reach that we step back and relinquish responsibility.

A friend of mine and I decided that for our book club (shameless plug - check out the metro development book club calendar in the links & join us!) we would pick a topic each month to focus our reading and research on. And in addition to those, we would adapt our behavior in some way to take responsibly for our contribution to problems in society, empower us to see a difference even if it is small, and give us some insight on the struggles others in underdeveloped areas face. So, July is the month of water. And for this we decided to treat water that way it should be treated, as a limited resource.

We definitely did not follow all of these, instead we just picked a few to start with that would be challenging for us individually. Nor did I succeed at sticking with the ones I chose every time I used water, but I put forth a valiant effort. I also learned how much I take for granted & how easy it is to save water when you are conscious of it. I plan to continue these personally, and perhaps soon they will be habitual. Let me know what you think:


Water Conservation Goals July 2009

Ways to eliminate water waste

1. Showers – 7 minutes max. If you are really serious, go with luke warm to cold showers and save energy too. Only wash your hair when necessary. Don’t use conditioner everyday, it takes the longest to rinse out – your hair really only needs it 1-2x per week anyways. Swap out your 2.75 gpm showerhead with a 1.75 water-conserving showerhead and you can save more than 7,700 gallons of water per year (Based on an average of seven-minute for a family of four). You can also take baths if quick showering isn't for you. A good test to see what will use less water: next time you shower, plug the drain and see if your tub fills before your shower is over. If not, shower, if so, take a bath. Or get wet, turn the shower up and lather up and then turn the shower back on only to rinse (this is for die hards prepping for third world bucket showering).

2. Brushing teeth & shaving – only use water to rinse, don’t leave it running.

3. Toilet use – only flush when necessary “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down.” Replace older, less efficient toilets with 1.28-gallon High-Efficiency Toilets (HETs) to save up to 16,500 gallons of water per year.

4. Dishes – when washing dishes, don’t leave water running, use as few dishes as possible. I.e. when using water cups, reuse before washing. When getting a glass of water before bed, only fill as much as you will drink. Use a brillo pad for scrubbing instead of letting things soak.

5. Eliminating contributions to water purification needs – this is an important one we all forget about. The more waste you flush, throw in the garbage disposal or rinse down the drain, the more the water you use must be processed, using lots of energy and wasting valuable resources. The more waste there is in water, the more limited safe water becomes. This is often a reason for water shortages.
*So – do not use your garbage disposal unless absolutely necessary. Compost everything you can.
* Eliminate as much toilet paper use as you can (while still being sanitary, obviously). Or if you want an extreme third world experience, don’t flush your toilet paper, throw it in the trash can. (Yes, this is really what they have to do)
* Eliminate any excess waste you throw in the toilet, such as tampon applicators, tissue, etc. One of my friends suggested using tampons without applicators; she does because she feels the applicator is unnecessary waste. The Diva Cup is another option.
* Minimize the chemicals you put down the drain. Soaps, cleaners, leftover drinks, etc.
* Do not waste food or supplies. What does this have to do with water? Well, the more you waste, such as eating half an apple and throwing the rest out, the more water you waste. Water is used in the production of crops and all products you use. When you waste them, you waste the water used to grow, produce, clean and distribute the things you use/eat everyday.

6. Laundry – reuse clothing before washing. Examples of where I plan on cutting out waste: I am hanging gym shorts to air out and reusing the a few times before washing them. They don’t really get smelly and then you aren’t wasting water. Make sure you do a full load whenever you do your laundry – most washers use just about the same amount of water whether it’s a light or heavy load. Some don’t even have a setting for light – heavy, but if they do, set it accurately for the amount of laundry you have. Consider purchasing a front-load washing machine.

7.Fix leaky faucets and install faucets with water-saving aerators to effortlessly save hundreds of gallons of water per year.

8. Use a broom rather than a hose to clean off driveways, steps and sidewalks.

9. Water your garden during the coolest part of the day, generally in the morning, and avoid watering on windy days.

10. Landscape with native or low-water plants to significantly reduce water usage outside the home.

11. Use leftover water for houseplants, instead of pouring out a half-empty glass of drinking water. You can also use most gray water from baths for this if you use mild soaps and shampoos. These will not hurt the plants, and often are a helpful pesticide. Don't do this with shaving creams or other harsh soaps & avoid hair from the drain.

12. Make sure the dishwasher is fully loaded to maximize the dishes cleaned in a cycle.

13. Get a rainwater collection system for your yard. Use a bucket or if you have the funding, buy a large rainwater collection barrel(available at Whole Foods and most hardware stores). Place them under your gutter, and use the water for your plants & lawn and such. I just leave my bucket for watering outside and it collects rainwater that I use when its sunny out. Be careful not to cause flooding or irrigation issues with this. The bigger the barrel, the better.

14. Stop buying water bottles. Unless you are in an area where the water from your faucet is unsafe to drink, you shouldn't be purchasing water bottles. Its a huge waste not only of plastic, but resources for production, transportation and marketing as well. AND, you are giving companies a reason to take someone else's water in a different area of the world and send it to you.


Using water for the correct purposes in the correct amounts

1. Water for drinking. Try eliminating drinking anything other than water this week. Drink 8 full glasses of water a day. This one is challenging.
2. Hand washing – washing your hands properly is very important. Taking at least a minute to wash, rinse and repeat will eliminate a lot of germs and potential health issues.

Consider it: pick a few of these and make them personal goals for August.

Unlearn it: the cultural norm of not noticing when water is being wasted...or not caring. (i.e. fix that leaky faucet instead of ignoring the drip every time you pass the sink.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

unlearning the basics.

The basics. As an American, I learned from an early age the assumption that clean water, healthy food and safe shelter would always be accessible. Water was clean, food you buy from the grocery store is fresh, and Walmart was down the street if you needed anything. When you are done with something, you throw it away. Not a thought about where it goes once it is in the trash. I was raised in a modest home, with a single mother who worked 3 jobs to make ends meet. But I still had more than most in a developing country would. I still learned to be wasteful and take my wealth for granted, even though by American standards we were anything but wealthy.

I have this urgent desire to contribute somehow in the developing world. I often feel I should be somewhere in Africa or Latin America, building latrines or working in a health clinic. And someday I hopefully will be. But in all my research, discussions and experience, I am realizing that too many people jump into these contexts with both feet hoping to help and in the long run their efforts are not efficacious or sustainable, and sometimes are even harmful. Maybe a few people benefit, a bundle of money is spent and often the volunteer finds growth and fulfillment through their experience and then they leave. And the water filtration system is not maintained, the latrines they built are not utilized, or the thousands of trees they planted are chopped down and used for producing charcoal. So what went wrong? Why were millions of US dollars funneled into the construction of the PĂ©ligre Dam in Haiti, which appeared to be a great development opportunity for the country, but left thousands homeless and without farmland? Why is flooding of perfectly usable farmland acceptable? Why now has the dam fallen into disrepair, only providing around half of its potential energy? Why does poor water quality, sanitation and hygiene account for some 1.7 million deaths annually around the world? -- 90% children, and yet Americans cannot find the time to fix a leaky faucet. Politics aside, there has to be a better way to solve these issues.

My theory is that we need to unlearn the basics if we are to truly contribute to change. We need to realize how much we take for granted and STOP taking it for granted, that throwing money at something does not always solve the problem, and that first learning how to approach things from an intelligent and sustainable perspective is necessary. I may be impatient about contributing to health and sustainability in developing countries, but I cannot be in a hurry to do so. I must first take in all this MPH program has to offer, so that when I contribute to development it will be productive. I know there is never a guarantee, sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils, and development takes sacrifice. I know it is all easier said than done. I think being willing to drop the comfortable lifestyle and go serve in the Peace Corps or some other organization is quite honorable and I hope to do so someday. But for now, I am going to challenge myself to unlearn the American ways of waste, materialism and laziness. If I cannot start to change my own perspective on what is acceptable in our culture and what is not, how will I truly make a difference with others?

Unlearn it:
"The world is full of miserable places. One way of living confortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money." - Tracey Kidder

Consider it:
in a new form or manner. ethos: the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period.