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Down the Drain

May 29, 2010

Have you ever wondered what happens, when we flush our toilet, where the water goes? Or when we are in the shower where that water ends up?  Do you ever wonder how much water we use on average?  But the sad reality is, only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and less than half a percent is available for us to use.  Listen everyone, it’s LESS THAN HALF A PERCENT.

I have asked around and I am surprised to discover that most people (that includes me) do not, in fact, know any answers to these questions.  Many of us don’t even think about water, as it’s so readily available to us.  Somehow we think water is endless.  But the sad reality is, only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and less than half a percent is available for us to use.  Listen everyone, it’s LESS THAN HALF A PERCENT.

Well, let’s start with where our clean and precious water comes from.  In most cities like Vancouver, water is collected from rainfall and snowmelt, and watersheds from the mountains.  All the water that is collected flows down to the reservoirs, pumping stations and mains where the water goes through ozone and chlorine treatments for purification. The process has very high quality control and is tested daily to ensure that the water meets drinking water guidelines.

From the treatment plants, the water reaches our home where we waste an astonishing 550 litres of water (on average) in a given day (based on a family of 2 in a summer’s day). Think about how many people live in just one community, let alone a city…then do the math.

Unfortunately, for our aquatic friends, water that we flush and wash away doesn’t just magically disappear.  Our wastewater goes into the ocean or into other bodies of water.  Granted, some wastewater goes through a treatment process before it gets pumped back out into nature.  Keyword being some.  Much of the water does not even reach the treatment plant because of overflow of water.  Because we flush/wash away many things that we are not supposed to, our sewage lines become clogged.  This restriction creates a bottleneck and a lot of the water does not make it into the pipelines. Instead, this overflow of water goes directly into the nearest body of water and harms and kills the living organisms in the water. Even the chlorine alone can be fatal to the fish.

Even when the wastewater is treated, it is not 100% purified.  Many of the waste/chemicals that we use in our daily lives cannot be removed in the treatment process.  As a result, these chemicals and other liquid wastes can also harm and kill aquatic life.  Many of our household products contain some of these ingredients.  Even as simple as our soaps can be one!

So as a result of our negligence, many of our aquatic friends and our environment are suffering.

The most important question is: what can we do to help this situation?

  • Do not throw oil or chemicals into the drain/toilet.  Things such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, solvents, cleaners, oils, paints or products with warning labels such as the following should be disposed of appropriately:
  • Be careful of what you put into the toilet and sinks.  Things like feminine hygiene products, dental floss, grease and oils easily clog the sewage lines which creates overflow of water.
  • Go green with your cleaning products.  The market has many natural household cleaners and detergent.  They are now just as affordable and work just as well as regular household cleaners.  There are ingredients in some cleaners that cannot be removed in the water treatment process and therefore becomes super toxic to our enviroment.
  • Try using natural hair products.  You can buy these at most health food stores.
  • Keep in mind that most cities do not treat any water that goes into the storm drain (those big rectangular metal grates you see on the streets and alleys).  So anything you put pour into these grates (i.e., soap from car washes, chemicals, oils, garbage, paint) will flow directly into the natural waters.  Again properly dispose of chemical liquids, and if you are washing your car try to reduce the amount of soap you are using and pour your remaining soap water into a sink or on the grass.  The fish will love you for it!  Or go to a designated car wash to wash your car.
  • Reduce, Reduce, Reduce!!! Reduce your usage of water.  You are using less cleaned water that way. Chlorine is not free, and it is harmful to marine life.  Here are some helpful tips:
    • The average water usage for baths and showers is 50 litres per day. Limit your baths.  When you shower, either take a 5 minute shower, or turn off your water when you are lathering.  It will reduce your water usage in the shower by half.
    • Everyone fills their glass to the rim with water or their favorite drinks.  We waste so much water just by throwing away drinks we couldn’t finish whether it is pure water or other beverages (don’t forget everything is water-based).  This applies to home and restaurants.  So when you’re at home, pour what you can drink.  You can always pour more later!  When you’re at a restaurant, don’t get a refill unless you know you’re going to drink it.  If you do, fill what you can drink!  
    • The average person wastes 76 litres of water per day (per person!!!).  Change your toilets to water-saving toilets or reduce the amount of water used in your toilets by inserting toilet tank bags into the tank.  The bags will save you 3 litres of water per flush.
    • Believe it or not, many people do not wait until their dishwashers/washers are full before they run the appliance.  An average standard dishwasher uses 57 litres of water for each load!  So buy an energy-saving appliance and wait for a full load before washing.  It will also save you loads of money! 
    • Also, if you are hand-washing your dishes (or, similarly, if you are pre-rinsing your dishes before you put your plates in the dishwasher), try to find ways to minimize your water usage.  .  For example, what I like to do is to keep the bucket of water I used for washing all my fruits and veggies, to rinse off the food debris of my plates before I wash them.
    • an average washer uses 150 Litres of water per load of laundry.  Max out your laundry per wash and buy an energy-efficient washer.  They use up to 50% less water, which is still a lot.  So double use your towels and clothes.  Don’t wash only after one usage.
    • Do not use pesticides.  Rain washes the pesticides directly into the natural waters which destroys the water habitat and contaminates and kills the fish and other creatures.  Look for natural alterantives.
    • 40% of our water usage goes to watering the lawn during summer. That’s more than our toilet usage! Using a sprinkler for your lawn for 30 minutes, twice a week, is more than sufficient to have a green lustrous lawn!  Also, your city probably also subsidizes the purchase of rain barrels.  These barrels catch the rain water which you can use to water your lawn.  Vancouverites, please visit: for more info.
    • Many of the cities will subsidize Water Saving Kits.  They will have devices like lawn sprinkler timers, water saver attachments, toilet tank bags, and water guns.  Go to your community/municipal website to find out.  For you Vancouverites, please visit for your kit!
    • Be conscious of the water you’re using.  Keep a mental note on the amount. Just try it, keep a mental note of the amount of water you use in a day, whether it’s drinking, rinsing, washing, flushing or cooking.  You will be shocked to find how much you use.  Awareness is very important!
    • Think of ways to reduce and to not pollute. 

 Don’t forget, it’s not “just” water and it is not free.  There is a lot of energy, time and resources used for the treatment of water.   Plus, the treatment of the water comes out of our property tax.  The more we use, the higher the tax.  So the next time you turn on that tap, or you’re flushing something down the drain/toilet, think again.  By thinking about your daily water conservation and preservation, you will be able to save the aquatic vegetation and animals which are so very important to our lives!  You will be able to save the world.  Don’t forget, the world isn’t just about us.  We’re certainly not the only living beings on this earth.  And the reality is we are indirectly destroying the greatest gift ever given to us…this Earth and everything on it.  We need to be more conscientious starting yesterday.

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge.  To know is not to be wise.  Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it.  There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool.  But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.

Charles H Spurgeon.”


From → Greener Pastures

One Comment
  1. rochelle permalink

    ok. so it’s been a few days since i’ve read this…and during those days I’ve realized that I’ve been overly concious of the things I’ve been doing…especially things that I thought were quite insignificant and didn’t even think about. From how much water I fill my glass with, to getting annoyed with the things I see other people excess use of paper towel, taking hour long showers, leaving the water running when soaping dishes etc! I’ve even got soap in my eyes trying to turn my shower off while lathering! thank you for that by the way ! haha!
    Needless to say sometimes it takes something as tiny as a blog to wake someone up and open up their eyes. It’s almost like a nagging little voice in my head =) Even though it begins with little steps, every little thing makes a difference. But then again on the other hand, sad to see that it can also take something significant like an oil spill for people to realize that our environment is in trouble, when in fact it’s been in bad shape for a while…*sigh*
    PS thanx for writing this…count me in as one of the “little steps” in the effort to doing whatever we can for our environment…one step at a time 😉 I’m gonna go on a big cruise first =)

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