conservation, conserving water, ecology.com, habits, paperless kitchen, tea towels, waste, water
Earlier this week I ran out of paper towels and napkins at the same time. Whenever that happens and I have to make a special trip to the store to restock, I totter guiltily on the brink of a resolution to go paperless in the kitchen. Guiltily, I say, because I know I just can’t do it. While I have schooled myself to not reach for paper towels to dry counters or hands generally, I still need them for covering foods in the microwave or draining my fried food like potatoes, zucchini, & bacon. I’ve read other people’s blogs about how they’ve gamely and gaily gone paperless, filling their kitchen with baskets of rags and hand-stitched little tea towels. I’ve concluded that while all that sounds inspiring, I’m just not there yet. But if I could get it down to replacing the paper towel roll only once every couple of months I’d feel alright about that. And listening to the guilt as motivator, in the case of plowing through non-renewable resources, is not a bad thing at all.
My friend Lisa Rosen recently wrote a great article that lives on ecology.com about conserving water and I wanted to share it with you. Since reading it, it really has helped me think through my habits at the sink, which I thought were not bad, but clearly could be much better. To her strong imagery that’s provided me with lingering reminders about not being wasteful, I will add this one: the sight of one of those gardeners I used to see so often in Los Angeles, pushing fallen leaves down the sidewalk into the street via pressure hose. I don’t want to be in that league at the sink level, lapsing into using my water sprayer as a lazy-man’s plate scraper or gravity tool. This is potable water coming out of my faucet, after all.
Here is the article in its entirety. Thanks, Lisa!
Okay so we already covered shower use. Now let’s turn our focus to the amenity that uses more water than anything else in the home. That’s right, this column is heading straight into the toilet.
A good friend says that future generations will look back on us, as we do the ancient Romans, and the thing that will cause the most amazement and horror will be: “They flushed potable water!” Ever since she said that, it’s haunted me. (Now it’s your turn.) So the first suggestion would be for everyone to convert their toilet to a gray water system, using water from washing their dishes or clothes. I don’t have that. I don’t know anyone who has that. Do you?
So, short of that, I go the old mellow-yellow route, which is grosser to talk about than to actually employ. You don’t even have to go full hippie, just flush half as often as usual. Easy peesy. Moving on. I also have a low-flow toilet, as do most homes at this point, seeing as a 1994 federal law mandated that all new toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush. If everyone reading this already has a low-flow toilet that you’re flushing only as needed, fabulous. If not, here’s a site that recommends the modern version of a brick in the tank.
The ol’ timey brick can disintegrate and cause clogs, hence their newfangled water bottle suggestion. Plus, how’s that for a clever reuse? But note the warnings on the site, and experiment with the displacement size – if you can’t flush efficiently, you’re not saving bupkis.
Okay now it’s onto the bathroom sink, which runs at the rate of about two gallons a minute. Everyone’s already turning off the tap to brush the teeth, yes? And scrub faces, shave beards, put in contact lenses, the whole shebang. According to the EPA, simply brushing teeth without running the water saves an average of 2880 gallons a year per person. For a family of four, that’s a veritable Niagara of 11520 gallons.
If you have a leak in this or any other sink, get it fixed already. Even a small drip equals a few gallons down the drain each day. If it’s beyond your budget to hire a plumber, or beyond your apartment manager’s interest to do likewise, then at least catch the water with a bowl or watering can, and use it elsewhere.
Now let’s head to the kitchen sink. Once upon a time I was rinsing lettuce in my salad spinner when I realized big bowls of water were going to waste with every wash. So now I pour that water into the garden. Same goes for all produce – I rinse it over a big bowl and use that water on the plants. Dashing over to the stove for a moment, when I boil or steam vegetables, I let that water cool off and do likewise. My garden has no idea there’s a drought in L.A., although every now and then it smells like broccoli water. That tends to confuse the cacti. A pet-owning friend adds that the leftover water in the critters’ bowls can be used the same way, before refilling them with fresh water.
When I wash dishes, I put any dirty recyclables in the sink so that the water I’m using cleans them as I go. Using potable water to clean something bound for the recycling bin horrifies me just like those decadent Romans.
And one of the simplest, silliest saving methods just occurred to me a couple years ago. I hesitate to mention it, because it’s so duh, but just in case anyone else can benefit from my dunciness, I hereby offer this up: turn the water down. I used to feel the need to have it going full blast as I washed. But half strength works just as well for washing and rinsing. Added bonus for us klutzes: you’re much less likely to splash yourself this way.
If you’re one of those fancy pants people who has a dishwasher, wait until you have a full load before you use it. And don’t clean the dishes first. I know you already know that; this tip really isn’t for you, it’s for those other people. Like me when I was a kid.
We had a dishwasher when I was growing up, but we always had to wash the dishes thoroughly before putting them into the machine, according to my father’s decree. The washer was only for sanitizing the dishes, he said. In his defense, it wasn’t a great washer, so any detritus left on the dishes upon entering the dishwasher would still be there when the cycle was done. Just hotter and more stuck.
If you must rinse, do like the recyclables mentioned above, and put them underneath the hand-washables to pre-soak.
My dad also insisted on a complicated loading methodology, taking up every available inch of space in an efficient manner that would now be considered eco-friendly but at the time was just annoying. It also has, I believe, made me freakishly talented at packing and Tetrus.
(In more recent years, I’m happy to report, my folks have acquired a dishwasher that does more than just bake the dishes with hot water.)
You don’t have to go full flow there either. Unless you’ve got some heavy duty cleaning to do, using a light-wash setting will do the job while cutting water use up to 55 percent.
And if you need to borrow my father to load your dishes, he’s available. And very sanitary.
Lisa Rosen is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, CA. She has been writing about film, television, books, art, and design for the Los Angeles Times since the turn of the century. Her work has also appeared in Written By, Moving Pictures, and LA Architect, among other publications.
When not thus involved in the popular culture, she engages in activist work in support of human rights, justice and environmental movements in countries such as East Timor, Indonesia, Burma, and the U.S.
Your friend makes some great points, thanks for sharing her article.
I really enjoyed your post. I think, a lot, about what we can do to make the world a better place for our children. I’m fanatical about recycling, and have been since our family adopted the practice when I was a little girl.
All the sudden our town recycled! I remember what a strange concept it was. How I didn’t have any clue what “materials” things were made out of, that could be reused. My mom took my sister and me, and a few friends, to volunteer one day at our local recycling plant. It was amazing. That hands-on experience is what really drove home to me just how much stuff there is “out there.”
People were carting in truck beds full of old papers, bottle cans, you name it.
I know that I can always do better. But for me, that attitude is rather toxic. It’s paralyzing, sometimes, if you stop and think about all the things that could be “better” or more eco-friendly. Like the little hand-stitched tea towels you mentioned. I figure I do the best I can, and we do a pretty good job. And that’s enough for me. 🙂 As long as I care and try (and I do, and you do too), we are doing our part with the “everyday.”
Thanks for sharing this. I agree that accepting what you can do is key, no judgments, just taking the baby steps into more sustainable habits and it might not be the most linear progress. It’s kind of my motto for what I write about here – sharing knowledge so we can do better because we want to, and at our pace, because none of us are eco-cooking-parenting gods. I didn’t use to compost, but after years of doing it now it is so ingrained that when I was recently a houseguest in a home where I couldn’t compost it actually felt painful throwing food waste in with the regular trash. But in a way that experience was overall a big positive for me because, hey, it showed me how much I had evolved. The schools in Northern California also do a great job in the recycling and conserving practices for the kids. If only our children were given the stewardship of the planet – we adults would be in a whole mess of trouble!
I appreciate the reminder too that it can be too easy to fall into the writerly habit of flogging myself to ‘be better’ and that’s not really positive motivation, even if it is time-honored tradition. As a wise writer once told me, don’t be too hard on yourself or you’ll be too hard on the people you love too.
I always enjoy your posts. Thanks very much for stopping by!
What a great story about the composting. The way you describe it, makes it seem like something our family could actually adopt. 🙂 Did you ever write a post about it?
No, I haven’t. But that’s a great topic to address and I’ll plan to get a post in the pipeline soon. Thanks!
Some people say washing your teeth in the shower saves water which has to be a load of codswallop.. The ampunt of water pouring out of the shower head while you stand there brusing your teeth is enormous compared to just using the sink sensibly.
BUT! One good way to definitely save water.. PEE while you have a shower 🙂
I can’t say I’m a fan of that idea, Toad, but I do love to hear the word codswallop! Where do you hail from? Thanks for visiting and welcome.