World Water Day: Wastewater

Water drops on shiny silver metallic surface

Want to understand and reduce your wastewater footprint? We’re taking a detour from the garden for World Water Day.  Wastewater is this year’s theme, and we’re looking home wastewater footprints.  Individual efforts may feel like just a drop in the bucket, but it all adds up!

World Water Day's Focus on Wastewater

It’s easy to be complacent about water living in an area with an abundance (over abundance in our recent wet weather) of clean safe water. Many people throughout the world aren’t nearly so lucky. 
 
This year’s theme is focused not on what goes in, but on what goes out. Specifically, wastewater from residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural development. According to current stats, a whopping 80% of the world’s waste water currently enters the environment without treatment.  Yikes!  How can individuals impact such a big problem?  Every little bit helps.

Understanding Your Wastewater Footprint

Understand the Water You Use and Dispose of at Home

Household water may include both potable (drinking/cooking/washing) and non-potable (gardening, cleaning) water sources. How these waters are sourced, used, reused, and offloaded can alter your footprint. Improvements might even save you some money, too. Most modern residential homes create greywater from washing and blackwater from human/animal waste (either separated or mixed) and redirect naturally occurring stormwater.  Where do these go from your home? Where/how are they processed from there?

Understand the Water Footprint of Your Food

Understand where your food comes from and the implications.  Agriculture is a big consumer of water and producer of waste, but there are a lot of hungry mouths on the planet.  Here in New Zealand, there is a lot (a LOT!) of farm activity.  We’re blessed with a temperate climate, good rainfalls, and good soil. Fortunately, most of our farming is not the forced, irrigated, confined, and/or horror factory farming that is plaguing many places; however, it does alter the environment and risk run-off of fertilisers, effluents, etc.  People like to slag “dirty dairying” but the environment is a heavy focus area for local farmers, the corporations they supply, and the government. All farming, be it plant or animal, comes with risks and responsibilities. 

Understand the Water Footprint of Your Consumer Goods

Understand the water and waste implications of your consumer goods (and more).  Although agriculture, food, and beverage production is something many people think about when it comes to water, there are many major users – some of which might surprise you! Manufacturing uses an enormous amount of water and, of course, with enormous use often comes enormous wastewater. Sometimes pollution as well.  Water Footprint Network has a number of very interesting articles and resources on consumption, pollution, and waste.

Reducing Your Home Wastewater Footprint

Look for Easy Efficiencies to Use Less Water

It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but if you use less fresh/clean water, then you’ll create less waste water. Here are NZ’s Smarter Homes resources on water and waste, and we’ve created a Water Wise board on Pinterest to collect inspiration. What’s your favourite water saving tip? From turning off the tap when not in use, chilling water in the fridge instead of running the tap, emptying partial glasses (or dog bowls) onto plants, there are a lot of very small changes that are easy to make and quickly add up to less water use and less water waste.

Improve Water Usage Efficiency of Appliances and Fixtures

You can modify/replace appliances and fixtures to use less water.  This isn’t as quick, simple, or inexpensive as the easy efficiencies above, but if/as opportunity allows you can further reduce your water consumption by modifying or switching to lower-flow items.

Avoid Dumping to Stormwater

Say no to drain dumping.  Storm drains often enter the ecosystem as-is. Never pour household waste liquids down the storm drains. It’s illegal in many places, but it still happens. Most local/regional councils have websites with suggested clean-up and safe(r) disposal options for excess chemicals, and many offer free drop-off points.

Reduce the Contaminants in Your Outgoing Wastewater

People tend to be a little more cautious with what they pour and flush in their homes (perhaps more for the sake of their plumbing than the environment), but many still dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals, paints, pesticides, herbicides, cleaners, and other chemicals through their waste water.   In addition to direct dumping, there are chemicals in everyday soaps, cleaners, detergents, etc and other not-so-nice stuff in our domestic wastewater. What’s in your household sewage? A lot more than you might think… By choosing products carefully and moderating the amount used, you can make a difference.

Reuse Greywater for Non-Potable Purposes

Greywater from your showers and sinks can be reused for non-potable purposes like flushing toilets or watering the garden. This can range from a simple collection bucket in the shower to a fully plumbed system.  If you are reusing greywater, take extra care with the types of soaps, detergents, and cleaners as not all are greywater-friendly – especially for use in the garden.

Collect and Use Rainwater

Gathering rainwater for use instead of direct-to-drain. Instead of funnelling your property’s rainwater into the storm drain system, you can gather rainwater for use. The simplest collection is for garden use, but rainwater can also be collected for non-potable household use or purified for general use. 
 

Support (and Shop) Sustainable Initiatives

Support Sustainable Business Practices

Support sustainable suppliers and efforts to improve sustainability. Recognise the efforts going into enhancing efficiency and sustainability within supply, manufacture, retail, services, etc. Understand that it is a work in progress and that your support will help sustain and progress it further. Understand that these safeguards, improvements, and innovations often come at a cost to the supplier. Be prepared to put your money where your sustainable mouth is to support greener choices.

Support Local Sustainability Programs

Support local efforts to enhance wastewater reduction and treatment. I have to say that I see a heck of a lot of “dirty humaning” going on around our local area, included frequent river/steam/ocean signage for “accidental sewage discharge” warnings from the local council. Not cool! It might mean municipal tax dollars are needed, but it really matters. Our homes, workplaces, factories, shops, restaurants, etc. are all feeding our waste into these systems.

Support Global Sustainability Programs

Support global efforts to enhance wastewater reduction and treatment. From sustainable supply chains for the products you choose to buy, to supporting programs which help to foster environmental initiatives around the world, to supporting government engagement in regulations and targeted reductions, every little bit helps.

Understanding and Reducing Your Wastewater Footprint


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