Now on his second visit from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, Lab Team member Olatunbosun Obayomi has noticed many ways that New York’s unique lifestyle and structure lead to wasteful uses of water.
I sat him down to ask what individual New York residents, businesses, and city departments could do to help curb this in their day-to-day lives and operations.
Here are ten easy water-conservation tips he offered:
1 ) Use fewer dishes.
“Here in New York, every Coca-Cola you order in a restaurant, you get a new glass. You get sometimes six or eight plates. In New York people eat at restaurants so often; if restaurants, or even people eating at home, would just reduce the amount of dishes they used, it would really conserve a lot of water.”
2 ) Incentivize the use of rainwater in private businesses.
“Providing tax rebates to big businesses who collect and use rainwater where appropriate could make a huge difference in the city’s water use. Businesses could use this water to wash windows or vehicles, for example. Imagine if UPS used rainwater to wash all of their vehicles, or we used it to wash the windows on New York’s many glass skyscrapers, how much water that alone would save.”
3 ) Keep your clothes cleaner.
“In Lagos people want to maintain their clothes as long as possible, so they want to wash them as infrequently as possible, so we’re very conscious of keeping our clothes neat and clean. When we sit down, we clean the chair off first with a handkerchief. We try not to let our collars touch our necks, if possible. When you don’t have to wash your clothes so often they last longer, but as a side result we save a lot of water. This especially helps in times of water scarcity.”
4 ) Take shorter showers.
“Here in New York it can get so cold, and the water in the shower is so warm that it’s nice to spend more time there than you need to. But it’s really a huge waste of water. Just spending a few minutes less in the shower each day can conserve a lot.”
5 ) Don’t use the bathtub as often.
“Taking a bath uses much more water than taking a shower—much more than you might think. It’s not that you shouldn’t use your bathtub, but when you do, really think whether or not it’s necessary.”
6 ) Use liquid sewage effluent to irrigate urban farms and surrounding agriculture.
“Once sewage has passed through the treatment plant, it comes out as safe and nontoxic liquid effluent that contains a lot of nutrients. Right now that liquid is released into the waters around New York, but it could be collected and used to water agriculture crops. Agriculture is responsible for 75 percent of the world’s water consumption and is one of the major contributors to the depletion of the groundwater table. Reusing this liquid effluent would save water used on crops and provide additional nutrients so farmers wouldn’t have to use so many other fertilizers.”
7 ) Fix leaky pipes under residential and commercial buildings.
“There’s always the problem, especially in cities where the infrastructure is getting old, that the pipes beneath buildings frequently leak. These small leaks can add up to a lot of water lost over time.”
8 ) Encourage hotels to use colored towels.
“There’s this mentality that when there’s a little stain on your towel its automatically dirty. This is especially true in hotels when someone else is washing those towels for you. New York has so many visitors, and thousands of hotels. If those hotels used colored towels instead of white ones, they would look less dirty and people might be less inclined to have them washed after every use.”
9 ) Utilize storm water for city cleaning.
“In New York City the storm water is mixed with sewage water when it is collected. If the city could reconfigure the sewer to capture that storm water separately, it could be used for things like washing machinery, subway cars, fleet vehicles, or the streets and sidewalks—the many things that you need water for but that don’t necessarily require pure drinking-quality water.”
10 ) Reduce your energy consumption.
“We often fail to connect our energy consumption with our water consumption. The production of energy requires massive amounts of water”—about 0.47 gallons (1.8 liters) of fresh water is evaporated per kWh of electricity consumed, according to this U.S. Department of Energy report—“so the more we conserve energy, the more we conserve water.”
Can you offer more? What simple things do you do in your day-to-day lives to conserve water that we might not have thought of ourselves?
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Photo: used by permission under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License from Meredith_Farmer