24 Solutions by 12 Friends to Reduce Your Water Footprint
If we could see groundwater in decline, then we would probably not pollute or consume irresponsibly. This piece discusses first-hand action and conversations with 12 close friends from around the world who explain their deliberate efforts to reduce their water footprint.
Let us begin by understanding the water footprint. As per the Water Footprint Network, water footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted. As I feel that water should be an ongoing conversation, I would like to share conversations that I have had with my friends (across October). These were one on one talks on water usage habits and practice. The motivation behind these discussions was to find solutions.
I began talking to Farida (from Azerbaijan and settled in Belgium), my friend with a 15month old baby. She and her family have found it difficult to curb their water consumption. Farida explains, ‘as a woman I consume more water than my husband, it is from my daily experience. And I am sure single ladies without a baby or family consume more water than ladies with family due to the amount of time they have’.
Farida continues to tell me that their electricity bill has increased from 265 euros to 300 euros over the last few months on average due to the baby. This pertains to using geyser for shower and using the water kettle. She states, ‘for sure, you consume more water if you have a baby’. Farida introduces us to the reality of going from being unmarried to having a baby and how this has affected her water consumption habits.
In a similar light, Gunn (from Norway and based in Sweden) has a family with children under ten years of age. As such, in the case of Farida, water usage in certain areas remains compulsory. As the baby grows, water requirements become flexible. ‘We are very blessed living in a part of the world where water is not limited. But water-reducing activities consist more of using rainwater for watering plants. We have big buckets (200–300 liters) to save rainwater. We also drilled a well, not necessarily to reduce, but more to be sure to have good quality and enough water to grow vegetables’, emphasized Gunn.
I recognized that in my conversations with other friends, also based in this part of the world, they do not have much to worry about when it came to consciously reducing water. A reduced water footprint is all about clever habits. Trondur Gregersen (Faroe Islands) and I met on a flight back from Reykjavik to Copenhagen in 2015. He, just like Gunn, is in a part of the world where water is significantly abundant. Trondur says, ‘when out sailing, we only have a certain amount of water on board. For long voyages, we must save water for essential use only. This habit has made me use less water at home as well, for instance, when washing the car, doing dishes, using an electric shaving kit so that there is zero water and finally…peeing in the shower’.
Many around the world might argue that frequenting a sailing ship is subjective. Although, such is not the case, especially when fishing is the primary occupation of your economy. Moreover, not when your nation is a collection of over 250 islands. Dimitris (Greece) tells me that growing up on a Greek Island meant an inevitable shortage of water. He explains, ‘water used to come by a special water (supply) boat. So, my grandmother taught me to use it strictly. The basic principle is not only how we use the water…it is how we collect it. The water of laundry and dishes were collected and used for the toilet.’ Dimitris has even inculcated indigenous products into his daily practice to reduce his water footprint. He tells me, ‘we use simple olive oil soap that does not create an extra soapy foam that requires huge amounts of water. It is but natural that we have always remained clean and healthy with olive soap’.
Although what if you are in the business of water? What if water is the basic ingredient for your financial survival? What if you are based in a country with high water stress?
Juan (Mexico) works in the water industry. He supplies water filters to the end consumer. Mexico is a high baseline stress country. I asked Juan whether he recognizes such a high level of water stress in Mexico. He shares, ‘in my efforts as a water entrepreneur, I have made sure to inform clients of my practice of installing water-free urinals and avoid using chemicals that are not biodegradable. Such detergents pollute water sources.’ In 2020, parts of Mexico have experienced water cut-offs, and this forced handwashing to become an option. Water tankers or public water delivery has been deployed. This cannot be a good sign.
In the Philippines, Aljeane works as a medical professional where water is used to treat, clean up, and take care of patients. She explains that in her sector she needs water to ‘shave patients’ legs, laundry of patients, waterbirth for pregnant women, and hygiene practices during menstruation’. She tells me that in the medical sector there is no alternative to water. I think that there is no debate on what she has explained unless there is an alternative to water. Also, she has a pet dog, which makes her ultra-aware of her water footprint.
On the same straight line, if you go northward, you will meet Dohyung Kim (South Korea). He works with an engineering company that requires lots of water to produce semi-conductors and is fully aware of the implications of water utilization found via electronic waste. At a personal level, he explains, ’I use a cup when brushing teeth, confine shower or dishwashing time and try not to consume food that takes much virtual water such as avocados.’ Taking Dohyung’s story one step further, his family has recently launched a restaurant. We all know that running a restaurant means having a significant water footprint. His family business is most attentive to ‘switching off the tap when using soap for dishwashing and use a kitchen towel to remove oil on dishes so that we do not have to run water’.
Eating meat is a significant consumption pattern in South Korea. I am not so sure which part of the meat industry contributes to amounts of carbon emissions and water footprint. Slightly south of Mexico lies a water-abundant country, Colombia. With a population of 49 million, Lucia explains that Colombia is gifted with water. She tells me, ‘over here we are aware of good water practices. Even though meat is prepared as a delicacy I do not eat meat. I do not see why I would eat meat. Likewise, I buy some clothes maybe once every two years.’ She points to the fact that a lot of her friends are conscious, and this has helped.
Daily habits, whether rural or urban, have resulted in a reduced water footprint. For instance, Rocio (Spain), tells me that she spends a lot of time travelling in a van. Like Trondur on his sailing journeys, she explains, ‘I try to save water when washing dishes to a maximum, to only wash once a day and don’t flush the toilet if it’s not solid’. I can see that this is a way of life. Likewise, Samantha (United States of America) practices ‘taking shorter showers, use a reusable water bottle, and fill the dishwasher before running it’. From the point of view of being water conscious, these are great steps. There will be many other ways to reduce water footprint as per habit.
I would like to leave you with stories of two friends who provide a systems approach to their water consumption habits. Saheed O. Adebisi (Nigeria) is certain that water is not a luxury for him or his family. ‘I think about responsible consumption of water by reducing wastage in everything. Reducing excessive eating to reduce the frequency of defecation which could amount to too frequent flushing and cleaning’, explains he. Nigeria is a country that enjoys low-medium baseline water stress. Although it is largely southern Nigeria that enjoys such abundance.
Finally, India is one of the 13 countries with extremely high baseline water stress. Kanupriya (India) gets into the details of water for personal use. ‘Recently due to water supply problems in our locality, I realized that the act of brushing which is Step 1. Rinsing the brush, Step 2. Brushing and gargling, Step 3. Cleaning brush and sink took me not more than half a glass of water versus 2 minutes of running water. Now even when the water supplies are normal, I prefer keeping an empty glass next to my washbasin to make this a convenient habit.’ She also observes a smaller size wardrobe, learnt to fix her own electronic devices, and has a strict zero plastic policy during shopping to reduce her virtual water footprint.
The above practices get me thinking. A lot of my friends reduce their water footprint either through habit, lack the luxury of access to unlimited water, or have grown in an environment where water was a scarce resource. Policymakers need to see water as a system subject to craft action-oriented policies that can be implemented by its citizens with immediate effect. The solutions provided in this piece are not unique. These are simple, daily, and practical measures that one can adopt with ease. None of us want the inconvenience of adaptation and mitigation caused by a water crisis.