Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Tag: Climate Change

Climate Impacts On Water Supplies

Water – essential to all life on Earth, yet a resource we take for granted everyday. We watch heart-wrenching footage on TV depicting young children walking for miles to collect a container full of muddy water but rarely stop to consider how lucky we are to have clean water at the turn of a tap. We drink it, wash in it, cook with it… we use it all day everyday and can’t imagine living without having clean water so readily available, but that luxury is set to come to an end within just 25 years unless we take action.

Over 65% of fresh water on Earth is found in icebergs and glaciers (which, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you is currently melting at an alarming rate into the sea), and just over 30% is found in ground water. Only about 0.3% of our fresh water is found in easily accessible lakes, rivers and swamps.

Of the freshwater currently available we already use more than half. We also store 5 times the total of all the Earth’s rivers behind dams and release the equivalent volume of freshwater each year.

Approximately 80% of all industrial and municipal wastewater is released directly into the environment without any prior treatment, with sludge from water treatment plants being spread as fertilizer on farm land – I’ve previously talked about the impact of microplastics (found in this form of fertilizer) in a previous post.

Global water use has increased almost 8 times in the last 100 years. 70% of global water use is for agriculture and, rather worryingly, we lose around 3 billion litres of water a day through leakage in England alone!

Over 50% of the UK’s total river length, some 389,000Km, has been physically modified and therefore affecting the habitat of organisms. It has been estimated that we have seen a decline of 81% in the population of 881 freshwater species between 1970 and 2012.

Today, water related diseases (such as malaria) cause around 3.4 million deaths around the world each year. Although it has now been eradicated in Britain, malaria was once commonplace here until there were concerted efforts in swamp drainage, changes in land use and the development of pesticides.

Ah pesticides… The development of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, as well as increases in their use, has led to an exponential increase in the concentrations observed in freshwater systems. Pharmaceuticals are manufactured with the intention of having an effect on biological systems – approximately 90% of human drug targets were shared with 23 assessed mammalian species. The manufacture of industrial machinery and products continues to produce toxic compounds; for example: flame retardants are widely used in both commercial and domestic products and are associated with significant disruption of the endocrine system of organisms. We are literally killing eco-systems with man-made synthetic chemicals.

Water Footprint – items often (although not always) require water in their growth/manufacture but so too does the packaging it comes in. We also need to be mindful of where the item has come from as it may be available locally, depending on season, but it will likely have been imported from somewhere there is a water shortage, further damaging the area.

The amount of water used for domestic purposes is closely related to its availability, the amount of effort it takes to access it and, surprisingly, our income levels… that’s right, people who earn more tend to also have a higher water consumption!

The UK daily water use average is 149 litres per person. As a rough guide:

  • Toilet flush = 12 litres
  • Bath = 100 litres
  • Shower (more than 10 minutes) = 200 litres
  • Dishwasher = 50 litres
  • Brushing teeth (with tap running) = 5 litres
  • Drinking, cooking and cleaning = 10 litres
  • Car washing (with hose) = 200 litres

Hopefully, you’ve already spotted one or two areas where you can improve your water consumption from that list. You can also reduce your water use by investing in domestic water recycling schemes that reuse water within the house, and of course by collecting rainwater in a water butt to use in the garden during the drier months.

Cape Town, in South Africa, almost ran out of water but through drastic action they managed to avert disaster. From showering for less than 2 minutes and not flushing after each toilet use to seeing who could go longest between washing clothes, the residents certainly had to make their fair of sacrifices. Each person was restricted to using a maximum of 50 litres per day – do you think you could manage that amount? Please join me in keeping track of how much you currently use and then seeing how close you can get it to 50 litres per day!

The New Normal

It’s fast becoming something of a cliche these days but the Covid-19 lockdown is already feeling normal for a lot of people and, dare I say it, I’m actually starting to enjoy it! I miss our families but I love not spending 90 minutes driving to go and see them. I know it is a truly awful time for a lot of people too – some are in mourning for a loved one they can’t say a proper “goodbye” to; some are experiencing domestic abuse; some are desperately missing family and some are just going stir-crazy being stuck inside. Everyday since lockdown began, however, I’ve been trying to look for and focus on the positives which now has me hoping things never go back to “normal”.

Whilst the world has been staying at home the environment has had some much needed breathing space – in just a few weeks (so far) the world is already showing signs of healing! Animals are venturing further into towns and cities. I live right next to a main road and normally have a constant sound of traffic going by as background noise; but now that background noise is birdsong and insects interspersed with the odd car/lorry going by. In 4 weeks my asthma has significantly improved – I no longer need to triple-check I have an inhaler with me when venturing out.

We need to keep this going! This crisis has shown us that we absolutely can make the changes necessary, we just need to keep up the momentum. Lets pick litter so its not a threat to the wildlife returning to our towns and cities. Lets continue to leave the car at home as much as possible to limit pollution.

Lets set ourselves a challenge to repair everything we can before thinking about replacing. With so many shops closed at the moment have you come across an item you normally would have thrown out and replaced? If so, now is the perfect time to have a little tinker and see if you can repair it. Chances are there are several YouTube videos explaining how to do it; and if it all goes horribly wrong then you can go ahead and replace it after all.

Supermarket shopping has been a bit of an issue recently with so many people clearing all the shelves prior to us going in to lockdown. Thankfully I did manage to get everything on my list this week (and several things that weren’t!) but in the first weeks of lockdown I had to literally take whatever I could get and only just managed to scrape together enough food to feed us all. Sadly, this meant more packaging than I would normally like coming into our home… still not enough to fill a wheelie bin in that time but it was still more than I was comfortable with.

Being stuck at home is also a fantastic opportunity to try a new hobby or maybe perfect a craft you’ve previously only dabbled with. Making soap for example is easy to do and is one less thing you need to add to that shopping list. Maybe you’ve always liked the idea of making your own clothes but didn’t know where to start? Now is a great time to learn. In fact, do you think you could go a year without buying any new clothes for yourself?

Of course not everyone is sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. Working from home for some is super easy and they much prefer Donald Ducking a Skype call to being in the office, but for some working from home can be either difficult or impossible at the moment – juggling childcare with working full time – but a lot of employers are seeing the benefits. With lower overheads, no commuting and the same level of productivity, I truly hope most employers will take this opportunity to continue to encourage office-based staff to work from home once schools and nurseries/child-minders are up and running again.

Stay safe everyone and enjoy the lovely fresh air of a healing world.

© 2020 Prisha Hill

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