Current Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Living near the gorgeous waters of Lake Geneva (see below), as opposed to the slightly scary waters of Lake Erie, this summer has made me appreciate clear and clean water. I wrote this post last week in honor of #WorldWaterWeek, but decided not to post it because in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it felt inappropriate and darkly ironic to talk about water as a precious resource while it was having such a devastating impact on so many lives. However, I’m posting this now because I still think it is important to consider personal sustainability with regard to water use as much as any other resource we engage with on a daily basis.
World Water Week is an annual conference/forum held in Stockholm, Sweden. The objective of the event is to encourage collaborative efforts between policymakers, scientists, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders on tackling the world’s greatest water related challenges. This year, the theme of the conference is “Water and Waste: Reduce and Reuse”. In the spirit of the conference’s theme, here are some recommendations for reducing and reusing water as an individual.
Choose resource-efficient produce
Agriculture accounts for 70% of the world’s water withdrawals. That means the majority of the water an individual ‘uses’ is actually coming from the food they consume, rather than personal in-home use. Reduce your personal water-footprint by choosing produce and animal products that are less water intensive. For vegetarians that means your almond milk and tofu are more impactful than you might think!
Now, to be fair, water used in agriculture doesn’t just disappear. But it does take time for water to get back into the system and agriculture can heavily pollute a community’s water supply. World Resource Institute just released their latest publication “Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand” where they researched the transparency of laws and information on different measures of water quality. Click the link for the PDF or check out a blog post here.
Reuse cooking water
Since I’ve been monitoring my personal sustainability and waste in my daily activities, I’ve been noticing how much water I’ve been wasting in cooking. Some of it is inevitable; I’m not going to stop rinsing rice or vegetables, especially since I don’t always buy pesticide-free produce. However, cooking water can easily be reused. I discovered the great trick of saving pasta water for making sauce and aquafaba (the water from chickpeas) to use as an egg white substitute. I also have gotten into the habit of cooking my grains last so that I can reuse the water from cooking beans or steaming vegetables. You save water and amp up the flavor of easy to cook foods like rice or quinoa!
Read “Let There Be Water”
Regardless of your views on Israeli/Middle Eastern politics, I highly recommend Seth Siegel’s book “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World”. It is fascinating, in part due to Siegel’s background as a former stand-up comedian, making him an incredibly compelling writer. The book chronicle’s Israel’s journey to water independence and the technological advances in Israeli agriculture. As I previously mentioned, the majority of the world’s water use is in agriculture, and Israeli technological advances in inventions like drip-agriculture are extremely promising in increasing resource efficiency.
Set a shower timer
Most people accept the idea that a shower uses less water than a bath. This is only true if your shower lasts less than 10 minutes. I set a timer on myself a couple of times, and even though I was under the 10-minute mark, I found that I was in the shower for much longer than I would have guessed. I’m not suggesting skimping on hygiene, but wash with efficiency in mind.
Use the dishwasher
I learned this from my Dad, who is adamant about using the dishwasher and not hand rising as much as possible to conserve water. According to National Geographic, you can use a third less water by running a full dishwasher than washing dishes by hand. I unfortunately don’t have a dishwasher in Geneva, as most European households don’t, but I make every effort to be mindful of water use when doing the dishes.
Ultimately, reducing water use is about being mindful. For those of us living in the developing world, it’s easy to think about water as an infinite resource since it is so readily available. However, 1 in 10 people worldwide do not have access to clean water (and according to new research on microplastic contamination neither do we). It’s important that we all treat water as the limited and precious resource it is!