Tips on saving water

By Felicity Kitchin

Did you know that over the last 100 years, water usage has increased at twice the rate of population growth? Over 2 billion people experience water scarcity, increasing daily. For a fascinating look at how quickly this is happening, and the global distribution of water scarcity, check out the Water Scarcity Clock[1] and maps.  The concept of peak water, developed in 2010, emphasises that we don’t have an infinite supply of accessible, usable water. As we saw when Cape Town faced Day Zero in 2018, regions can experience severe water constraints and competition for water. It’s therefore important that we manage water more sustainably, cutting our usage as much as possible, and protecting the quality of water by reducing pollution and restoring aquatic ecosystems.

Scary water facts[2]:

  • Nearly 25% of the world’s population faces a water crisis, that’s one in every four people.
  • By 2025 (less than five years’ time), half of the world’s population will suffer from lack of safe drinking water.
  • By 2030 (that’s just ten years’ time), 700 million people in Africa may need to move to another region due to severe water shortages
  • Various sources show that South Africa’s average water consumption is significantly higher than the global average, particularly in Gauteng, so we are water guzzlers!

What can we do about it? Remember that every drop helps, even small steps make a difference overall, if we all combine to save as much water as we can.

Suggestion: Start a competition against yourself (or even better, ask friends to join you to see which household can reduce their consumption the most). Monitor your household water consumption regularly by checking the water meter or your water account. See how much you can bring it down each month.

There are several ways you can save water, both in the home, and (which we often don’t think of) through what we eat.

  1. Reduce your water consumption in your home

In the bathroom, you can do the following:

  • When you’re starting the shower, put a small bucket under the tap while the water warms up so you can capture this rather than letting it run down the drain. Then you can use it to water your indoor plants or even flush your toilet.
  • Turn the water off when you’re using soap. Get wet, turn the water off and soap up, then turn the water back on and rinse off.
  • Shorten your shower time, maybe even try a timer to encourage children to take less time.
  • If you have a bath, reduce the amount of water you use by not running a very deep bath. Every centimeter makes a difference.
  • Turn the water off when your brushing your teeth, and also when lathering up while washing your hands and shaving.
  • Try not to flush every time you use the toilet – remember the saying “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”, and only flush when really necessary. If you need to replace your toilet, get a high-efficiency model which uses far less water per flush compared to older toilets.

In the kitchen and laundry:

  • If you wash dishes by hand, fill up the sink with water rather than letting it run while you wash and rinse each item. Do the same when you rinse fruit and vegetables, put water in a bowl and use that to rinse them. Use that water on your garden or indoor plants rather than throwing it down the sink.
  • If you need to replace your dishwasher or washing machine, choose a high-efficiency model that will use much less water.

In the garden:

  • Reduce your lawn cover as much as possible – grass soaks up huge amounts of water; if possible, replace lawn with beds which you can mulch, or with more water-friendly ground cover.
  • Water early in the morning, not during the heat of the day when evaporation rates are high.
  • If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, make sure that water is reaching the plants you want to water, not running off down the driveway or pavement.
  • Try not to use a sprinkler, rather use a watering can on individual plants, or drip irrigation that waters each plant.
  • Plant indigenous, water-friendly plants rather than imported plants designed for areas of high rainfall, like English country gardens!
  • Collect rainwater, either using a storage tank like a Jojo tank or Rototank, or a cheaper option of big containers or buckets, and use this water on your garden. 
  • You can use greywater (from the bath, shower, basin or laundry) in your garden, although you need to be careful of some aspects of this, and probably even more so now, with Covid-19. You need to weigh up the advantages of saving water by using greywater against possible disadvantages. To use greywater, you can use a bucket or pipe it directly into your garden, connecting a pipe from your bathroom outlet to a hosepipe. Note: It’s best not to store greywater for long or to use it in swimming pools; don’t use waste-water that has been used to wash nappies; and don’t use greywater if someone in the house has an infectious illness. Use detergents that are garden friendly (i.e. no salts, boron or bleach)[3]
  • Reduce water usage through what you eat!

We don’t often think of how much water is used in producing the different things we eat. But it can make a big difference. If you want to find out how much water is used to produce different foods you eat or drink, check out this site: Once you are aware of the water footprint of what you eat, you can choose more water-efficient alternatives where possible. For example:

Food/drinkWater footprint
  Wine OR   BeerThe global average water footprint of grapes is 610 litre/kg. One kilogram of grapes gives 0.7 litre of wine, so that the water footprint of a wine is 870 litre of water per litre of wine.   The water footprint of beer is 298 litre of water per litre of beer.109 litres of water are used to produce a 125ml glass of wine.   One glass of beer (250 ml) “costs” 74 litres of water.
  Coffee OR   TeaTea uses far less water to produce than does coffee.One 250 ml cup of coffee uses 130 litres of water to produce.   A 250 ml cup of tea 27 litres of water to produce.
  MilkBut adding milk and sugar all adds up!255 litres of water is used for a 250 ml glass of milk.
    Cane sugarCane sugar, the most widely used sugar around the world, is often heavily irrigated.The water footprint of refined cane sugar is about 1780 litres per kg.
  Beef steak OR   ChickenThe global average water footprint of beef (15400 litre/kg) is much larger than that of meat from sheep (10400 litre/kg), pig (6000 litre/kg), goat (5500 litre/kg) or chicken (4300 litre/kg).

The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. The average water footprint per gram of protein for beef is six times larger than for pulses.
2,623 litres of water are used per 170g steak. This means that every time you eat a steak you are pouring the equivalent of eight full standard bathtubs (about 300 litres each) worth of water onto your plate[1].   Compared to the 170g steak above, the same size portion of chicken requires just 734 litres of water, 3.5 times less than the steak.
  Potato OR   RiceThe global average water footprint of potato is 290 litre/kg We buy milled rice in the form of white rice or broken rice. In addition to the water used, most rice is grown in Southeast Asia and carries considerable CO2 emissions to transport.Potato chips cost 1040 litres of water per kilogram. One baked potato uses about 108 litres of water.[2]   The water footprint of the rice we use is 2500 litres of water per kg.  
  ChocolateAssuming that chocolate consists of 40% cocoa paste (with a water footprint of 24,000 litre/kg), 20% cocoa butter (34,000 litre/kg) and 40% cane sugar (1800 litre/kg), we calculate that chocolate has a water footprint of about 17,000 litre/kg.The global average water footprint of 1 kg of chocolate is 17196 litres. A 100-gram chocolate bar costs 1700 litres.

If you’re interested you can download a free guide to help assess the water footprint of what you eat –

You can also download a tool to assess the water footprint of different countries, river basins or the world here:






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