Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive, Northumbrian Water
- In 2010, the UN recognised the human right to water and sanitation, meaning everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, and affordable water.
- Although the earth is often called the blue planet, out of all the water on the planet there is less than 1% accessible fresh water for us to use. The Antarctic ice sheet holds about 90 percent of the fresh water that exists on the Earth’s surface.
- The average water used per person per day is 142 litres in England and Wales, 165 litres in Scotland and 145 litres in Northern Ireland.
- As well as the water that comes out of our taps and toilets, there is hidden water in the products we buy. For example, one cotton t-shirt has about 2,700 litres of water embedded in its production, which is around 49 baths full of water!
- Population growth, rising water use and climate change will increasingly affect future water resources in the UK. If water efficiency action is not increased, the UK could be hit by water shortages by 2050.
Why Save Water?
Saving water saves money especially if you are on a water meter. Installing simple devices such as water-efficient taps and showers will save both water and energy by minimising the use of heated water. Around 18% of energy consumption in UK homes is spent heating water, and about 12% of a typical gas heated home’s heating bill is from the water for showers, baths and the hot water tap. So even if you don’t have a water meter you could still be saving money on your energy bill. Such large financial savings can be particularly vital for households facing water and energy poverty.
“With population growth, changing weather patterns including hotter summers and drier winters, water is becoming increasingly vulnerable to scarcity, even in the UK. By 2040, we expect more than half of our summers to exceed 2003 temperatures. That will mean more water shortages: by 2050, the amount of water available could be reduced by 10-15%, with some rivers seeing 50%-80% less water during the summer months. It will mean higher drought risk, caused by the hotter drier summers and less predictable rainfall. On the present projections, many parts of our country will face significant water deficits by 2050, particularly in the south east where much of the UK population lives. ” Sir James Bevan, Jaws of Death Speech
Our use of water and energy are closely linked. Operational emissions from the water industry account for nearly 1% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. This is because water treatment is energy and chemical intensive and transporting water around the country requires a great deal of pumping. Reducing your water use will therefore have an impact on your carbon footprint.
Using water efficiently means that we can minimise the amount of additional water resources being taken out of our rivers and aquifers, especially as demands are rising. This protects our water resources and the wildlife that live in them and rely on them for their survival.
Securing Water Supplies
As water resources become more scarce building new infrastructure to meet growing demand becomes increasingly expensive. If we save water instead, we can offset the need for new infrastructure and reduce pressure on existing ones. Additionally, efficient water use makes our supply more resilient against impacts from climate change, such as droughts.
How to Save Water
In the Bathroom
Showers, toilets, baths and bathroom sinks consume more than two-thirds (68%) of household water.
Showers and Baths
- The average showerhead uses 12 litres of water per minute, with power showers using around 15 litres. Given that the average shower taken is around 10 minutes long, that’s up to 150 litres of water every time you shower!
- Aerated showerheads reduce the flow but don’t compromise on pressure. They maintain the pressure by mixing in air with water to produce a steady, even spray.
- Low flow shower heads reduce the amount of water used to around 6 litres per minute, whilst still giving you the feel of a normal shower.
About 30% of total water used in a home is used to flush the toilet. Remember, this water is the same high quality water that’s in our taps.
Update to a Water Efficient Toilet
- Dual flush toilets have a split flush button which gives the user the choice of how much water to use.
- Dual flush toilets typically use 4-6 litres of water opposed to the old style flush systems which use a massive 13 litres per flush.
We support the use of dual flush toilets, where they are working properly, as they can save water. However, the issues of leaking dual flush toilets and confusing flush buttons need to be urgently addressed to get the full benefits.
Cistern Displacement Device (CDD)
- A CDD is placed in the cistern to displace around 1 litre of water every time you flush. They are super easy to install.
- Installing a CDD can achieve savings of up to 5000 litres per year.
- They are available for FREE from most water companies.
- Try to avoid flushing away cotton wool balls, make up tissues or disposable nappies. Simply throwing them in a bin will cut down on the amount of water wasted with every flush and protect our sewers.
- Remember the 3 P rule: only poo, pee and paper down the toilet.
When a toilet is leaking, clean water dribbles or runs away from the cistern down the back of the pan, which means a leaky loo often goes unnoticed.
Leaky loos are one of the most common causes of unexpected high water use for consumers in the UK. A leaky loo wastes between 200 and 400 litres of water per day – that’s a jaw dropping 72,000 to 146,000 litres of water wasted every year – from just one leaking toilet.
- To detect a slow leak add a few drops of food colouring to your toilet cistern
- Don’t flush it for around an hour
- If the food colouring is present after an hour, you have a leak
- It’s easy to fix though! First contact your water company who may well fix it for free. Or you could find a recommended plumber to call or if you fancy a bit of DIY take the parts to the hardware store and ask the staff to help replace them
- Remember to check again for a leak once fixed.
- Read the full leaky loo position statement here.
Brushing your teeth
- Remember to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth – a running tap wastes approximately 6 litres per minute.
- Spotted a dripping tap? This could be wasting around 5,500 litres of water a year and could just need the washer replacing.
In the Kitchen
Kitchens consume over a fifth (22%) of a household’s water.
A dishwasher on an eco setting can be more efficient than washing dishes by hand, if the dishwasher is totally full. However, recent research has found that only half of people say they use the eco setting.
- Try to buy a dishwasher with a capacity suitable for your household size, so that it’s always full when you use it.
- Experiment with the settings on your dishwasher, many modern machines offer ‘Eco’ or ‘Economy’ setting.
- Avoid pre-rinsing dishes, detergents are highly effective, so all you need to do is simply scrape and place. Easy.
- Try adding a washing up bowl or plug into your sink to catch excess. This can reduce water wastage by 50%.
- Adding a tap aerator can help to reduce the flow, similar to the shower.
- Surveys show that a typical load of washing is usually much less than the maximum capacity of the model, so stuff in a few extra shirts to make the most of your loads!
- When buying a washing machine, check the label or specifications for water use, the best models will typically use less than 7.5 litres per kg.
- Read the manual to find out which cycles are the most water-efficient.
Drink Enough Water
- Put a large bottle of tap water in the fridge to ensure you can have chilled water all the time.
- Plants love to have a drink of any leftover water in glasses.
- Try to fill the kettle with only what is needed, this will save water and energy.
- Using the lid on saucepans reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation. It also helps your lovely veg cook quicker.
In the Garden
Take a look at our Saving Water in the Garden Guide here.
- Stop watering your lawn. It’s ok to let your grass go brown during dry spells – it will bounce back as soon as it rains again.
- Hoses and sprinklers typically use about 1000 litres of water an hour. This is more than 12 baths.
- If you have to use a sprinkler, try to use it in the early morning/ late afternoon, this is when evaporation rates are lowest.
Artificial Grass’s Footprint
- At first glance artificial turf – made from plastic – might appear to be a water efficient alternative to real grass, as it doesn’t need to be watered.
- However, it takes around 3,744 litres of water to manufacture one square metre of artificial grass.
- This has been estimated to be the equivalent of watering a real lawn for 18 years.
In addition, people will sometimes wash their plastic turf to keep it clean, using even more water.
- All this means that plastic turf is not a water efficient option – especially as we recommend that people not water their real lawns, and let their grass go brown during drier periods, knowing that it will go green again as soon as it rains.
- Pressure washers should be used sparingly or not at all. Look out for water-efficient models that are available.
- Attaching a trigger nozzle on your hosepipe will halve the amount of water used and help direct the flow to the root of your plants.
- Watering cans can significantly reduce the amount of water used (compared to sprinklers) whilst getting the desired amount to your plants.
- Water butts are a brilliant method to catch a large amount of rainwater that falls each year – it’s free water.
- Lots of people use bathwater on their gardens, this is a brilliant idea. Please remember this is dirty water and should be used immediately, and never on fruit/ veg or near children.
- Use mulch and bark in your garden, it will help to reduce evaporation by up to 75%.
- Think about mixing some drought-resistant bedding and perennial plants to your garden to add a bit of diversity and resilience in the summer.
- Sprinkle hydrogels in the garden and in hanging baskets. These drought relief products are known to aid the slow release of water over time, reducing the need to water the garden frequently.
- Check the weather before you water. Many plants can go at least a day without watering, and if you know rain is forecast for tomorrow then it’s ok to give it a miss today. The RHS have some great watering advice here.
Food's Carbon Footprint
There is lots of scientific evidence that shows that eating a high meat diet will significantly increase your carbon and water footprint.
A quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from food. 58% of this comes from animal products. The International Panel on Climate Change says that we need to buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter – but also eat more locally-sourced seasonal food and throw less of it away.
Food's Water Footprint
- The OECD reports that around 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used by agriculture in the world and that the livestock sector is currently using about 20% of freshwater for feed production.
- The Water Footprint Network’s global average figures state that 15,400 litres of water is required to produce 1 kg of beef and 5,990 litres to produce 1 kg of pork. The AHDB Beef and Sheep Roadmap (2013) estimates that in England this number is 18,000 litres per kilogram of beef.
- 290 litres of water are required to grow 1 kg of potatoes or 1827 litres of water per 1 kg of bread from wheat.
- For every litre of milk produced, a cow needs to drink at least 3 litres of water. For some cows, the water requirement corresponds to 150 litres of water per day.
- There is a great deal of water used in the production of clothes.
- Although this water is rarely from UK sources, the clothes are often made in countries with already scarce water resources, further exacerbating global water scarcity and water inequality.
- Growing the cotton and dyeing the materials for one pair of jeans and one t-shirt can use up to 20,000 litres of water. It would take you over 13 years to drink this amount!
- Buying clothes second hand is a great way of ensuring clothes are given a second life and new resources are not being depleted.
- For more information about embedded water check out waterfootprint.org
Water Efficiency at Work
There are many benefits to reducing water consumption in the workplace, it can help with more than just cost. It can help your business to comply with current and future environmental legislation, reduce its carbon footprint, improve your company’s environmental performance and generate positive PR. Take a look at our Guide for Offices.
Water fittings in commercial multi-occupancy buildings often experience more frequent use than in dwellings, which means that payback times following investment can be excellent.
Educate your employees on the importance and practices of water efficiency. Try and set water usage targets and encourage widespread involvement to achieve this. Get your employee’s upskilled and trained in water efficiency with Waterwise training.
Get your office the Waterwise Checkmark to highlight that a particular building, or part of building has put in place technologies, signage, and engagement programmes to result in water efficient behaviours and reduced water waste within your office environment. This can help your business evidence environmental credentials and form part of CSR reporting.
- urinal controls or waterless urinals
- efficient flush toilets
- automatic or sensor taps
Make sure you know where your supply pipes run and where the shut off valves are.
Check your meters at night or when no water is being used to monitor leakage.
Make sure your pipes are protected against cold weather as leakage can increase after a burst pipe due to frost.
Don’t forget your office kitchens either. Installing automatic taps or spray taps can help make a big difference to consumption levels. Check whether your appliances have an eco setting, and use them if they do.
Water Supplier and Water Recycling
Contact your water retail company for more details and ask them what they offer.
Research water recycling schemes. They are often more viable in business settings than domestic settings. Determine where your wasted water is going and if or how you can recycle it in other areas of your business.
You can also take a look at our Retail Switching Guide, which helps businesses looking to switch water retailer to ask the right questions of their current or prospective retailer in regards to water efficiency.
Golf Irrigation Guide
Read and download our Golf Irrigation Guide here.
If you are a leisure facility operator or association, we encourage you to please consider signing the relevant charter and making the commitment to move your organisation towards being more water efficient. By making this commitment you will not only be making a positive contribution to the UK’s wider environmental agenda, but will also increase your organisation’s CSR credentials and resilience.
Many local water companies have education centres or teams that conduct water-saving assemblies for schools – to educate and enthuse children and young people on the water cycle and the need for water efficiency. Some local water companies and water retail suppliers to schools will also run a water audit that identifies where and how much water can be saved. These programmes are often free or heavily subsidised, and their impact can be substantial. A Waterwise study found that up to 3.13m³ of water per day can be saved on average per school.
Read the Government guidance on good estate management for schools here.