Five water-friendly alternatives to prevent your city from becoming another Cape Town

Products we use every day affect our water footprint to a large extent. As summer approaches, and the fear of water shortage rises in our cities, here are a few switches that can help save the precious resource and avert crisis.

Ninety-second showers, yellow water, no flushing, and ruckus caused by fights over water – does it ring a bell?

It sure will, if you have read about the water crisis in Cape Town city in South Africa. For months now, the city has been grappling with severe water crisis caused by population growth and continuing drought conditions, leading to fears over ‘Day Zero‘ when the city is projected to shut down water supply altogether.

Such prospects have led the government to lay down strict usage and conservation rules, even for tourists. The everyday water usage for an individual is restricted to 50 litres for all activities. Using tap water to fill pools, wash cars or water gardens is now considered illegal.

While Cape Town is the first city to face such a severe water crisis, various reports suggest that due to climate change and environment-unfriendly human practices, all countries across the world are going to face the wrath of nature — either in the form of extreme flooding or extreme water scarcity.

Closer home, our cities are in no way unfamiliar with water scarcity. From Bengaluru to Delhi to Ahmedabad, the spectre of water shortage haunts every big city in one way or the other. Shall we, as citizens, wait for Day Zero to be pronounced before we act?

What can you do?

To understand the challenges in global and local perspectives on water, OpenAct — a forum to discuss sustainable development goals, solutions and social entrepreneurship — organized a confab with experts and influencers in Chennai, in collaboration with Goethe Institut, Chennai . The session was intended to discuss problems and solutions for the water crises across the globe; policy on after-purchase of a product, levying water tax, water-friendly alternatives and regulation of withdrawal of common water resources were some of the key points discussed to make people aware of their water footprint.

Incidentally, the Water Footprint Network shows that the total water footprint of India is 1,100,000 million m3/year. The water footprint per capita comes to around 3,000 litre/day. 97% of the total water footprint goes in internal consumption and 3% is used in products/ingredients that are imported.

Our consumption patterns, too, therefore have a strong impact on the water availability in future. Among various other measures towards conservation and prudent usage, the collective use of water-friendly alternatives for products we use everyday can help save several gallons of water daily.

Here are a few that urban India should consider making a switch to, wherever possible:

Water-saving toilets

The conventional toilets in our homes and offices use a large amount of water for flushing, which is found to be unsustainable in the long haul. To fight the water crisis in urban areas, water-saving toilets have been introduced in the country.

“To ensure sustainability and treat water as a resource, water-friendly toilets are being preferred by environmentally conscious people. Such toilets consume only 60% of the water that a conventional toilet takes to flush once. There are also options of half-flush and quarter-flush,” says Thirupurasundari Sevvel, an architect based in Chennai.

Dry shampoo

Most of the shampoos we use have high water content and also require a lot of water, which can be addressed to a large extent by dry shampoos. The shampoo comes in the form of a bar, just like soap, with which the hair can be rubbed and cleansed.  Some dry shampoos also come in the form of a spray. The hair is cleansed as you spray it on your hair and scalp. The global brand Unilever manufactures dry shampoo that does away with the need for water use entirely.

Hand sanitizers

Due to the water crisis, restaurants in Cape Town have switched over to hand sanitizers to save water. It is also estimated that the usage of a 50-ml bottle of hand sanitizer can save up to 20 litres of water.

However, it must be remembered that sanitizers are not capable of removing all types of germs, and usage has to be guided by how soiled your hands are. As the fastest check, make sure your hands are not visibly dirty or grimy. Also, even the best alcohol-based hand sanitisers may not be effective when hands have been in contact with food or fatty materials. But they do remove bacteria and viruses from apparently clean hands.

Menstrual cups

It is true that reusable cotton sanitary pads are environmentally much more sustainable when compared to disposable ones most commonly used. In terms of water usage, a month’s supply of reusable cloth pads would use around 40L of water, a bit less than 2 buckets, and does not cause pollution or use up water resources like a disposable pad does.

But even cotton pads are water-intensive as it requires a huge amount of water just to manufacture a single cotton pad. It requires 22,500 litres of water to produce one kg of cotton in India. It has also been reported that in 2013, India exported 7.5m bales of cotton and used up 38bn cubic metres of virtual water (fresh water used to manufacture a product).

Now consider menstrual cups as an alternative; it is evident that cups are more water-efficient than pads and have a minimum shelf-life of 5 years. “While manufacturing a menstrual cup, water is required only to cool down the machine which is reused multiple times. Apart from that, water is not used in making the cups. Cups are more water-efficient than any other menstrual products. It needs only a glass of water (40 ml) to wash the cup and reuse,” said Shivanand Bellare, Brahad Elastomers Pvt Limited that manufactures menstrual cups.

“The use of disposable pads has far more side-effects. The pad that goes into the landfill stay there forever and does not allow water to penetrate that affects the ground water table. In addition, many people flush or throw in waterbodies, the pad absorbs as much water it can and causes blockages in sewers, pipes etc.,” said Kavya Menon, founder of Sustainable Menstruation Tamil Nadu.

Retrofitting water-using devices

Aerators, water-saving showers, flow restrictors and tank bank (for flush toilets) retrofitting are strongly recommended . The Retrofit basin tap can control water wastage by 80%, the showers and kitchen sink tap controls 60% and retrofit flush saves around 2 litres of water every time it is used.

“Choosing spray-type faucets can save significant amounts of water as the coverage of area is wider than that of regular faucets,” added Thirupurasundari.

“Water-friendly alternative products are definitely a good idea. But the real purpose of the products can only be achieved when it is taken to the common people, including ones in rural areas. As of now, most such products are sold with a commercial purpose and not pocket-friendly,” commented J Saravanan, a water expert based in Chennai.

Many interesting insights can be gained if we observe how the residents of Cape Town are battling water scarcity. A majority has moved towards water-friendly products and practices. Though the water situation in our cities may not have reached the extreme and dire state as in the South African city, let us act before disaster strikes.

For more on how you can alter your habits to save water, read this.

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