EarthTalk: Is it true that the bathroom is
where over half of our household water usage takes place?
What are some ways to take a bite out of that?
—Shelby McIntyre, Chico, CA
60 percent of our household indoor water usage happens
in the bathroom.
© Hemera Collection/Thinkstock
indeed, some 60 percent of our household indoor water usage
happens in the bathroom. As such, updating old leaky fixtures
and changing a few basic habits could go a long way to not
only saving fresh water, an increasingly precious resource,
but also money.
the toilet is the biggest water hog in the bathroom. Those
made before 1993 use up to eight gallons of water per flush,
five times what modern toilets use. “It’s a
good idea to replace pre-1993 toilets if you can,”
says Patty Kim of National Geographic’s Green Guide.
(FYI, usually a toilet’s manufacture date is stamped
under the lid if you want to check how old it is.) If it
is older and you can’t or don’t want to upgrade
it, Kim recommends rescuing a two liter soda bottle from
the recycling bin and filling it partially with some water
and sand or pebbles and then putting it into your toilet’s
tank, where it will take up space and force your toilet
to use less water every flush. Or get a Toilet Tank Bank
for less than two bucks; it hangs in your toilet tank and
displaces almost a gallon of water to save water on every
leaks account for some 14 percent of the total water usage
in an average U.S. home. Toilets are often a major culprit.
Kim recommends testing your toilet by putting 5-10 drops
of food coloring into the tank, then put the lid back on
but don’t flush. Check back in 15 minutes or so to
see if any of the colored water leaked down into the bowl.
If so, you have a water-wasting leak, and it might finally
be time to replace that aging toilet after all. The EarthEasy
website reports that replacing an older18 liter per flush
toilet with an ultra-low volume (ULV) 6 liter flush model
“represents a 70 percent saving in water flushed and
will cut indoor water use by about 30 percent.”
shower can also be problematic as a water-waster, especially
if the shower head in question was made before new regulations
went into effect in 1992 mandating lower flow. Kim says
you can check to see if your shower head is older or not
by turning the shower on full blast and catching its output
for two minutes in a bucket. If the bucket is overflowing,
then your shower head is an older, more wasteful model.
Newer low flow shower heads won’t come anywhere near
to filling the bucket after two minutes. A new shower head
costs around $10 and is a great investment because you can
save water and money with every ensuing shower. Regardless
of whether or not you have a newer shower head, you can
save more water by turning off the shower to soap up, then
turning it back on to rinse. Eartheasy reminds us that even
with a new shower head, even a moderately short shower can
still use between 20 and 40 gallons of water. But that’s
nothing compared to a bathtub, which can hold as much as
50-60 gallons of water.
pearls of wisdom in regard to reducing bathroom water waste
include turning off the faucet while brushing teeth. Better
yet, fill up a glass with just enough water to rinse after
brushing. Likewise for shaving, stop up the sink with a
little warm water in it and wiggle your razor around in
the basin between strokes. And if you suspect your faucet
may be spraying harder than it needs to, unscrew the aerator
tip where the water comes out and take it into a hardware
store for a more stingy replacement.
Green Guide; EarthEasy.
EarthTalk: I understand that some companies
are now looking to cut down forests and burn them as “biomass”
for generating electricity. Is nothing sacred?
—Audrey Barklay, Newark, NJ
theory, burning any kind of plant material for energy
is a carbon-neutral endeavor, but chopping down
forests for ethanol is unwise because they cannot
be regrown quickly.
© Hemera Collection/Thinkstock
In theory, burning
biomass (any kind of plant material) to derive energy is
a carbon-neutral endeavor, meaning that the carbon dioxide
released during the process is in turn absorbed by other
plants and put to use in photosynthesis—and as such
does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Biomass is
also flexible: It can be turned into ethanol to power up
automobiles, or can be burned like coal to generate heat
and/or electricity. Factor in that biomass feedstock is
usually inexpensive, widely available and a seemingly perfect
alternative to the carbon-spewing, foreign-derived fossil
fuels we rely on so much these days.
trees, brush and logging debris becomes the feedstock for
biomass processing plants or for coal-fired power plants
equipped to “co-fire” with plant material. But
environmentalists warn that some timber companies and their
utility and state customers are taking things too far by
levelling entire forests—including some within publicly
owned national forest land—to generate more feedstock
for otherwise underutilized biomass energy production facilities.
Among the negative
environmental impacts, chopping down forests to burn for
ethanol production—even if replanted as tree plantations—is
like biting the hand that feeds you. “Natural forests,
with their complex ecosystems, cannot be regrown like a
crop of beans or lettuce,” reports the non-profit
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental
group. “And tree plantations will never provide the
clean water, storm buffers, wildlife habitat, and other
ecosystem services that natural forests do.”
for biomass is that burning it, like coal or anything else,
produces air pollution including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen
oxides, particulate matter and a variety of toxic substances.
According to NRDC, these pollutants increase the incidence
of asthma, heart disease, lung cancer and other respiratory
ailments, and premature death.
But perhaps most
troubling about plans to cut down forests for biomass feedstock
is taking carbon neutrality out of the equation, given the
fact that tree loss in and of itself is already responsible
for some 20 percent of the world’s total carbon pollution.
“When biomass is harvested from forests, carbon stored
in the soil is released into the atmosphere,” reports
NRDC. “This is in addition to the carbon that is emitted
when the wood is burned for energy. And there’s no
guarantee the lost trees will ever be replaced.”
that there is still a place for biomass in the alternative
energy universe, but cautions that “only biomass that
is carefully chosen, grown responsibly, and efficiently
converted into energy can reduce carbon and other emissions
compared to fossil fuels.” The group would like to
see Congress put in place tighter regulations on biomass
harvesting and processing. “Biomass can be harvested
and utilized in ways that reduce pollution and protect forest
habitats, but only with sustainability safeguards and proper
accounting for carbon emissions—including carbon released
due to deforestation,” concludes NRDC.
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