How to save water at work and at home: The importance of saving water in a drought whilst at the same time maintaining hygiene levels
If you are reading this from Cape Town - or possibly even Durban or Gauteng - you may well be rolling your eyes at the thought of another article on how to save water. Cape Town is currently in the grip of the worst drought in a 100 years, and with winter rainfall well below expectations, the average dam levels are a mere 33.6% compared to a 61% average for the same period in 2016.
Level 5 water restrictions were announced on the 4th September - effective immediately - and unless Cape Town receives some miraculous rainfall this month, the summer of 2017/2018 may well see Cape Town run out of water entirely. You’d have to be living under a stone not to have noticed the continued entreaties in the media for everyone to bring down their water consumption drastically.
Over the past few years Gauteng and KZN have also been faced with water restrictions and water shedding, and while those regions aren’t at present suffering as severely as the Cape, it’s time for all South Africans to wake up to the stark reality that we live in a water scarce environment.
Since I’m hoping that all of you responsible citizens have already implemented various ingenious methods to save water at home, I’m not going to bore you with suggestions for things that you are already doing. For those of you who feel like you could do more at home, take a look at this handy list of ways to save more water at home from our friends down under.
But what about our water usage at work? Are we as conscious of our water usage at work as we are at home? And are companies doing enough to encourage employees to minimise their water usage whilst at work? Level 5 restrictions demand that managers of commercial properties must ensure that their monthly consumption of municipal water is reduced by 20 percent compared to last year, with immediate effect.
Every company is different, and so the amount of water they use and the measures that they can put in place to save water are going to be vastly different, but here are some water saving suggestions that should work for the majority of businesses out there:
1. Notices and signage
Constant re-inforcing of the water saving message is important if companies want to see employees actually change their habits. Put up posters and notices anywhere that employees are faced with a tap to constantly remind them to limit their water usage.
2. Replace soap with hand sanitiser
The one thing that every company has in common is bathrooms for its staff, and the combination of flushing toilets and washing hands means that the office bathroom is possibly the main source of office water consumption. We would never suggest compromising on something as important as hand hygiene, however it is a relatively simple adjustment to replace the soap in the dispensers with waterless hand sanitising gel or a hand sanitising spray. That way colleagues who use the bathroom can sanitise their hands instead of washing them under running water.
3. Cistern adjustments
“If it’s yellow, let it mellow” is fine for saving water at home, but the office bathroom is not the place to forget to flush. However, if your company is serious about saving water, they should look at replacing existing cisterns with dual flush cisterns. If that is going to be too costly an undertaking, placing a 2l cooldrink bottle filled with water in each cistern will reduce the amount of water used with every flush.
4. Catch condensation from air conditioning units
Air conditioning units are a staple of the modern office building, and many of them run continuously as they are used for both heating and cooling. The condensation that is created in this process often goes to waste as pipes are simply left exposed to the exterior of the building. Ask your building manager to invest in a few robust water collection receptacles and place them under the air conditioning units to catch the condensed water. This water can be used for car washes, watering plants, or even siphoning back to the toilet cisterns if you want to get sophisticated.
5. Waterwise planting
If you are lucky enough to have garden beds at your workplace, ask your exterior landscaper or gardener to start re-planting the beds with waterwise, indigenous vegetation, such as succulents and fynbos. These can be watered with the run-off collected from your air-conditioning units.
6. Kitchen washing up and cleaning
How often have you walked into the office kitchen and run the tap to rinse your coffee mug or sandwich plate? Rinsing dishes under a running tap isn't necessary and wastes a lot of water. Ask your building manager to purchase 2 washing up bowls which can be filled with soapy water and clean water, and encourage staff to use that for washing and rinsing. The office kitchen is another place where hand soap can be replaced with hand sanitiser to maintain hand hygiene whilst reducing water usage.
7. Rain water tanks
If you have the space, consider adding rainwater tanks in an area such as the office car park. Collected rain-water can be used for watering garden beds, car washing or even pumped back up to the building for flushing toilets.
If your office is doing anything else to save water, please feel free to send us your water saving tips for the office. You can contact us here, or subscribe to our blog and receive updates straight to your inbox.