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Pledge to waste less water in 2021

by Emma Ash, CAS policy officer (Fair Markets team)

This article was first published in the Herald on 30 December 2020.

Is it just me or do New Year’s Resolutions get harder to think of when you get older? There’s something about adulthood that takes the fun out of them, makes them less a challenge and more a chore. 

Well this year I’ve found a real cracker that I‘m actually quite excited about. And if you haven’t thought of one yet, I hereby formally invite you to join me. I’m going to commit to using just 2,021 litres of water in January 2021.  

The idea is from a terrific organisation called Waterwise, and is named their Pledge2021 campaign. 

So you may be wondering how much water does a person normally use per day? Well, it’s an interesting question. When people were surveyed about how much water they think they use, 46% of Brits said less than 20 litres per day, per household. But in fact the average individual in Scotland uses 165 litres per day, which adds up to 5,115 litres per person over a month. That’s double what individuals were using 60 years ago.  

And it’s not just drinking and washing. We shouldn’t forget the high levels of water used to produce the food, clothes and other things we buy. 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. 

But why does it matter how much water we use? After all, we live in Scotland! So water is not exactly in short supply, right? Well, obviously, yes there is lots of water in Scotland. Indeed 90% of all the UK’s surface fresh water is in Scotland. And if you took all the water in England and Wales, apparently it would still only half fill Loch Ness.   

But just because water exists doesn’t mean it is safe to drink. Only about 1% of the water on the planet is accessible fresh drinking water. And we are effectively borrowing the earth’s drinking water every time we use it; in fact, we are drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank.  

Nowadays, after we use water it is pumped to treatment centres, cleaned and put back in the environment where it goes through the earth’s water cycle and at some point, it will again be taken from the environment, cleaned using filtration and chemicals and pumped back to our homes along miles and miles of pipes, for us to use yet again.  

This process of constantly treating and pumping water to our homes and businesses is expensive. Just because we aren’t metered in Scotland doesn’t mean to say we can’t do more to cut down on water waste. The more water we save, the less it costs. This makes a saving on our water bills, which can be used to deliver the other services that Scottish Water has a duty to fulfil. There is also the environmental cost of the water treatment process, which is energy and chemically intensive. If we use less water, this will help reduce our carbon footprint.  

The impact of climate change in Scotland is showing up in less rainfall in spring and summer and heavier rainfall in winter. This means we are dealing with potential shortages of water in some areas of Scotland earlier in the year and flooding later in the year. This year we saw widespread drought across Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Perth and Kinross, and this affected thousands of people with private water supplies. Public supplies in those areas were being carefully monitored by Scottish Water. 

Wasting less water also 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 Scotland’s wonderful water resources for our communities to enjoy, and for the wildlife that live in them and rely on them for their survival. 

CAS has been working in partnership with SEPA and others on Scottish Water’s Water Efficiency Group. But changing the ways that we as consumers use water must be part of the effort too. That’s why Pledge2021 is such a great idea, and why I am definitely up for it.  

I know my family and I use too much water. With three kids it's a never-ending cycle of showers, baths, laundry, cooking and cleaning! But we’re going to start 2021 by trying to waste less. You’ll have heard of the ways to do this: turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, filling the sink when washing vegetables or doing the dishes, etc.  A running tap uses 6 litres of water per minute. If you brush your teeth as recommended for two minutes, that's around 12 litres saved each time. Twice a day that's 24 litres saved per person. A family of four could save nearly 100 litres of water per day. 

You’ll find lots more ways to cut your water waste when you sign up to #Pledge2021 on waterwise.org.uk. I am hoping my kids and I learn to appreciate the value of our water in 2021, and beyond. Why not join us?