Climate Change

How You Can Help The Planet Now

An absurd way to measure how much water you use each day

Water can make or break you. If you drink a glass of water, it makes you. If you get swept by a tsunami, we’ll, that’s another story.

A hurricane spinning it’s way in the gulf of mexico
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

This make or break concept is increasingly important in the face of high heat, global population growth, and natural disasters. A consequence of which is water supplies are dwindling.

The thing is everyone of us plays a roll to conserve water, not just the utilities and titans of industry.

Of course, there are many questions, but only one matters: how do you use water and how much do you use?

Well, here’s a simple exercise that requires some basic math and a gallon container, like a milk jug or carton.

First, take your container, place it on your kitchen counter, and look at it. Notice how big it is. Pick it up and feel how much it weighs. Notice the size relative to the counter itself or even the toaster and the stove.

Put it in your sink. How much room does it take up? Play around with this to compare and contrast.

Then, answer this question: if someone demanded you pour a gallon of water on the floor, would you consider a gallon to be a large quantity? Also, how would you feel about the cleanup, setting aside the fact that your kitchen might as well be the community pool.

Next, starting tomorrow, observe how you use water, how much you use, and how many milk jugs you could fill with that amount.

If you were to then place all those jugs on your kitchen counter, how would it look? Is this much water required for such a task or activity? Is what you’re doing okay? Is there a better way?

So, for example, notice the duration of your showers. Federal guidelines caps water flow from the shower head at 2 gallons per minute, max? The average shower is 7 to 8 minutes which equates to about 15 gallons of water.

I wasted 3 gallons. So either I’m negligent or teeth are overrated.

Now imagine 15 gallon milk jugs across your kitchen counter. These represent the minimum amounts of water required under these statistics. Some use even more. The question is do you need this much to clean yourself? Maybe give your feet a faster scrubbing.

And what about doing dinner dishes? Regulation sinks expel 2.2 GPM. Again, assuming a family of 4, if it takes 10 minutes to rinse and load a dinner table worth of plates, glasses, bowls, etc., you use 12 gallons of water.

Between the shower and the dishes your looking at 27 gallons of water. How do those jugs look in your kitchen?

Notice how you manage the faucet. Do you shut the water off while scrubbing that stuck-on crust off a baking sheet or do you let it run? That crust doesn’t just pop right off and it’s tough to scrape away.

And while you’re applying elbow grease, it’s all too easy to leave the water on while you work. The question is, how many jugs do you fill?

And, by the way, what about breakfast and lunch kitchenware that require a rinse or two.

And don’t forget we waste water even in the smallest instances, like after you brush your teeth.

A dixie cup holds 3 ounces of water and there are 128 fluid ounces in a gallon. Figure you fill the cup with 2 ounces. Do you use both ounces to rinse or do you use 1 and toss the other? After a month, how much water did you toss? What about after a week? A year?

And do you brush twice daily? I was shocked to learn, in one year, for oral care alone, I wasted 3 gallons. So either I’m negligent or teeth are overrated.

And what about the toilets? How often do you go?

Older models use 3.5 gallons per flush. Low flows use about a gallon, give or take. Assuming you have a low flow model, and you go to the bathroom 4 times a day, that’s 4 gallons. If a family of 4 does the same, that’s 16 gallons per day.

And let’s not forget the times you flush a tissue because you killed a bug or blew your nose. A family could flush 6 additional times per day making total daily volume 22 gallons or 154 gallons a week. That’s nearly 3,300 gallons per year — by flushing a toilet.

On a side note, what happens when you eat sushi that doesn’t agree with you? Call that 4 to 8 more jugs in your kitchen if not more. What if the family gets sick from that tuna roll. Oh boy.

So between the toilet and the shower, leaving aside the dixie cups, how many jugs have you filled? At least 50 plus, depending upon the sushi.

And how does your kitchen look with 50 plus jugs in your kitchen and possibly elsewhere? This is the amount of water used for just going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and doing dishes. I haven’t even mentioned washing your hands for 20 seconds.

a row of washing machines in a laundry mat. a row of dryers in a laundry mat
Photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash

And don’t hold back. Work the process with other tasks like laundry and your lawn.

If you’re a homeowner, how much water does your lawn require?

Depending upon your lawn size and hose size, an atypical sprinkler sprays between 630 and 1,860 gallons per hour. That’s a wide margin. But 630 gallons of anything is absurd, let alone lawn care.

And even if you water your lawn for just 15 minutes, your water use would likely be somewhere around 157 and 465 gallons.

Now let’s get crazy and talk irrigation systems.

These things use 16 gallons per minute or between 12,240 and 15,360 gallons depending upon if you water 8 zones for 15 minutes, 2x’s a week, or 1 hour, 3 times a week. If you collect all those jugs into your kitchen, you’ll be swimming in a boatload of milk jugs. Does anyone really need this much water everyday?

And with your new found knowledge, see if you can guess what your neighbor’s water habits are. Notice if they take measures to capture rainwater or do they let their sprinkler run for half the afternoon? Again, an atypical sprinkler sprays between 630 and 1,860 gallons per hour.

Do they have a pool with 8 feet deep ends? How about 10 feet, or 12?

Inflatable pools are popular during this pandemic — more popular than masks.

a pool
Photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

Some of these inflatables require 760 gallons-for an inflatable pool!

Is it okay if a small speck of pasta rides in a washed pot rather than attacking it with water and a Brillo pad? (I usually pick away at it later with a fingernail. It pops right off.)

Where can you even fit all these jugs now? You clearly have no more room in the kitchen and are likely flooded out of the dining room, living room, and den.

For this exercise, you don’t have to do anything more than observe. Just notice. Take a moment and notice what you see about your water habits.

Then, ask yourself this: for the good of humanity, do you care enough about water to do the little things to conserve it?

Ask yourself if it’s okay that your knees poke out of the bath? Is it okay if a small speck of pasta rides in a washed pot rather than attacking it with water and a Brillo pad? (I usually pick away at it after the fact with a fingernail. It pops right off.)

When you’re washing dishes, can you shut the water off while you figure out how to position that bowl in the dishwasher?

When you momentarily walk away from the sink, can you shut the water off then too?

Are you going to drink that much coffee in the morning?

Who knows? You might need all that joe. This process takes large mugs of energy to focus on the task at hand.

The bottom line is water grows more and more precious every day. It’s important to think about how you and your community use water.

After all, water is the elixir of life, isn’t it? I hope, after you mop up because one of those jugs will surely leak, you’ll conserve water on a regular basis.

And my kids hope so too.

What do you think about this exercise? What other water related things might you measure not mentioned here? What other resources would you measure for better conservation?

Anthony C. Fireman
Anthony C. Fireman

*Statistics provided by Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission and the US Department of Energy

Published in The Boston Globe Magazine; Trying to figure it all out by expressing ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams; I have a dog, a very influential dog. Very.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store