Two hands holding a paper water droplet

Global Water Conservation Review

When it comes to water consumption – every drop counts. Water is like gold dust, and we need it for survival. It’s constantly used in our everyday lives, from drinking and bathing to generating electricity and transportation. Plus, water is all around us, from the lakes in the local park to the seaside visited on holiday. Naturally, we begin to think there’s an endless supply. So, why do we constantly get told to save as much as possible?

The truth of the matter is, whether it’s a whole city, big company or even the average homeowner, how we use our water matters a great deal. In the UK, each individual uses approximately 150 litres of water per day.

This is somewhat alarming as the UK is highly populated, yet it’s also one of the most water-stressed countries in Europe.

How we use water depends on the choices we make as individuals, and most of us aren’t aware of just how huge an impact our water-use decisions actually make. Water conservation is becoming a significant issue across the world, as water demand is increasing whilst at the same time water supply is decreasing. It’s a resource treasured by all, and globally, many countries are on a quest to reduce their water waste. The tactics used to do this will differ depending on each country's specific needs and strengths.

Let’s take a look at how different countries are faring in their pursuit to reduce water waste, how the UK compares and ways in which we can make a difference, one drop at a time.

Which Countries Waste the Most Water?

A close up of a globe

By 2050, more than half of the worldwide population (57%) will live in areas which suffer water scarcity for at least one month per year. To put this into perspective – the future of water is now being traded on the stock market. This is a stark reminder to all that we need to get smart with our water usage and treat the resource with a little more TLC.

Have you ever wondered which countries waste the most water at home? Ali Nazemi, a Hydrologist and Associate Professor of Engineering and Dan Kraus, Senior Conservation Biologist, teamed up with dishwashing company Finish, to reveal just how wasteful certain countries are when it comes to water.

The top seven culprits around the world for domestic water consumption per capita include:

  1. Canada

Canada ranks first place as the worst offender, with a domestic water usage rate of 7,687 gallons (29.1m3) per person per year – this is enough to fill 200 bathtubs or 40 hot tubs! Don’t forget this is only takes into account domestic use and doesn’t include the water used for agricultural or industrial intents. If these were included too, it would take the figure up to a whopping 616,313 gallons (2,333 m3) per capita.

  1. Armenia

Not far behind Canada – Armenia takes second place. This small country with a population of just over three million shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to their water use. Between 2009 to 2017, they expanded their public water supply network to rural areas – which is of course a great thing. However, it did trigger a dramatic rise in the amount of water used daily by Armenians. Their overall water usage combined is 1,439 m3 per capita per year. This means that whilst Armenia’s population shrunk by 7% within this time, the amount of water provided to households still increased by 75%.

  1. New Zealand

New Zealand takes third place with bronze, where each person consumes around 5,970 gallons (22.6m3) yearly. Water consumption is generally high in New Zealand because of the demand in farming, hydroelectricity and tourism. Although, thanks to the low figures they obtained for green, blue and grey water across industrial, domestic and agriculture, the country’s total water usage is 1,589 m3 per capita per year.

  1. USA

In the United States, each person uses around 5,970 gallons (22.6m3) every year. Consumption is high here due to the fact that water is largely accessible across the country. Whilst these rates are high, on the bright side, public domestic water use has dropped since 1995. This is partially because of infrastructure upgrades, improved detection of leaks and people being educated on the issues caused by wasting water.

  1. Costa Rica

Next on the list – Costa Rica. The country prides itself on its environmental conservation. However, with their guaranteed promise of clean water to all their citizens, it does mean water is more easily used at a leisurely level. Costa Rica’s total water consumption is 1,490 m3. This is owed to its low blue water statistics, and relatively lower grey water figures, when compared to the USA and Canada.

  1. Panama

In Latina America, Panama takes centre stage as the largest consumer of water. As both its population and economy gradually grow, the country is likely to face increased demand for new water sources. Household water usage is also promoted as water in Panama is cheap. A considerably low total blue water consumption sees Panama’s overall figures being the lowest in this group of seven – at 1,364 m3.

  1. United Arab Emirates

Last on the list is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE has the highest ecological footprint globally, with water consumption rising drastically since 1960 (both due to population growth and high household water use). With the country’s water purification plants burning large amounts of fossil fuels, its demand for water is also adding to its carbon footprint. The UAE has one of the highest overall water consumptions across agriculture, domestic and industry at 3,136 m3. Although last on the list, they take centre stage with the highest score for all three types of water usage in comparison to the other countries on this list. 

Which Countries and Cities Waste the Least Water?

Aerial view of a port and sea water

As droughts become more common across the world, and populations grow, many countries/cities have taken on innovative ways to manage, protect and conserve their water supply. The countries breaking the mould in the future of water conservation include:

  1. Saudi Arabia

With its desert location and sizzling weather, Saudi Arabia has been a true pioneer when it comes to desalination. This technique removes salt from seawater in order to make clean drinking water. There are two approaches to desalination – reverse osmosis (seawater is forced through a membrane at high pressure) and thermal desalination (seawater is heated to produce pure vapour).  Saudi Arabia is in fact the largest producer of desalinated water globally. Today, they produce the highest production of desalinated water in the world.

  1. Bangalore, India

The city of Bangalore is bordered by almost 450 freshwater lakes and home to 10 million people. In 2010, their lakes were in danger of being purchased by private owners. This meant that it would make these lakes unavailable for conservation as well as cut-off from the aquifers that provide water for the city. Officials in their Environment Support Group put their foot down and presented the case to the city’s court – in a bid to save the lakes. Fortunately, they were triumphant, and the court made it illegal for the lakes to be privatised. Plus, a government agency was established to protect and save Bangalore’s lakes, making them sustainable and available to the urban communities and farms surrounding the city. In 2012, the UN awarded Bangalore with the Best Water Practices certification, to commend their water saving triumph.

  1. Greece

The island of Milos in Greece is home to much geothermal renewable energy due to its setting on the Aegean Volcanic Arc. Geothermal energy is used to convert sea water and brackish water by heating it up to create water vapour that is condensed into drinking water and water for irrigation. Luckily, it’s an abundant source of energy that's not heavy on the pocket and doesn't rely on fossil fuels. That’s why the country’s geothermal desalination project is the perfect fit – the plant will supply desalinated water at a cheap price to residents of the island.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town has been globally recognised for their efforts when it comes to saving water. Over the past 15 years, the city has made big moves in reducing their water use by 30%, even though their population grew by 30% within the same timeframe. The city’s water conservation programme has two approaches – encourage people to use less water and utilise the latest technology to use water efficiently. Cape Town has done the following in their quest to reduce water wastage:

  • Tweaked water pressure to reduce wastage
  • Replaced old pipes
  • Improved leak detection
  • Took on extensive repairs
  • Enhanced the management of water meters – in 2011, they replaced 20,574 faulty water meters and trained 100 school caretakers in 60 schools about water conservation. They also encouraged 95 parks and golf courses to irrigate with treated sewage rather than drinking water – saving millions of gallons a year.
  1. Beira, Mozambique

Mozambique’s second-largest city, Beira, is a port town on the Pungwe River, where it meets the Indian Ocean. With help from the Dutch, including the NGO Alterra, the city has created Beira 2035, a master plan to tackle the pressing issue of urban storm water. This is because it has frequently caused flooding and soil erosion as well as posing a threat to infrastructure and the health of Beira’s residents.

In a smart move, Beira 2035 has also taken the opportunity to plan for urban expansion. The city is overflowing, and its growing population urgently needs more housing. That’s why the city is financing its flood protection by appealing to 300 investors who are interested in developing the port area. The money will be used to:

  • Dredge the harbour
  • Build low-cost housing
  • Develop the local industry
  • Improve transport links and drainage
  • Expand the provision of water services

    Innovative Water Saving Solutions

    Grass with a graphic of a tap

    With 70% of the Earth’s surface covered with water, but only 1% available for us to use – it’s time to get on board with smart ways to save this prized resource. Thankfully, technology and new innovations are vital pieces of the water-saving puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at how they can help rescue us from the water crisis:

    1. Water-saving toilets

    Let’s talk toilets – flushing is the biggest water hog in the house. However, with sustainable toilet manufacturers hitting the scene, toilets are now being designed to use as little water as possible.

    An older style toilet uses about 14 litres of water per flush whereas new dual flush models use as little as 2.6 to 4 litres.

    1. Graphene filter

    Following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, more work is being done to make desalinated water a feasible option for more of the world. An international team of researchers have developed a graphene-based coating for desalination membranes that is stronger and more scalable than the current nanofiltration membrane technologies. The result could be a one stop shop for all things water-related – a practical solution for clean water, wastewater treatment and pharmaceutical and food industry applications. With this technology, for many parts of the world where clean water is scarce, more water becoming safe to drink could quench a lot of people’s thirsts.

    1. Water-saving faucets

    Do you leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving? Don’t worry – we’ve all been there! Thankfully, there’s still time to make a difference. Did you know that by replacing an old faucet with a WaterSense labelled model could save you 700 gallons of water every year? This the same amount of water needed to take 40 showers – that’s a lot of showers and a lot of water!

    1. Water-sensors

    Smart home technology is taking the world by storm, and it doesn’t just stop at smart alarms, cameras and lighting. There are now smart home systems which include water/moisture sensors that alert you when detecting either of the two. Some systems will even do the hard work for you and instantly shut down your water system to prevent further damage and waste. This means any pesky leaks can be dealt with before they become a bigger problem.

    1. Waterless products

    Saving water can start in other places too like your cleaning cupboard or makeup bag. Water is one of the most common ingredients found in many products that we use on a daily basis. For instance, in skincare, water is used to improve the products consistency or the way it spreads across your skin. And it makes sense that whenever you clean your car – there’s water involved in car wash products. However, whilst we all long for silky-smooth skin and shiny cars – using up all this water comes at a cost. That’s why a new wave of waterless products are hitting the market in a bid to save more water. It’s true waterless products can carry a higher price tag as they’re more concentrated. However, at the same time, they recompense for this with higher quality as they contain more ethically sourced ingredients. But remember – the higher the concentrate, the less product you need, and the longer it lasts. Going waterless will mean swapping convenience for conservation — and that’s always a good thing.

    1. Eco shower heads

    We’re all guilty of taking long, hot showers from time to time. A quick shower is normally more water efficient than bathing. However, some power showers use more water in less than five minutes than a bath would. Thankfully, eco shower heads can save the day as they help control the flow and spray pattern of the water. If you want to take your water conservation mission even further – screw a shower-flow regulator into the bottom of your shower hose to make a difference one drop at a time.

    1. Drinkable book

    In partnership with non-profit organisation Water is Life, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an education and filtration tool in the form of a book. Each page provides basic water and sanitation advice. However, most notable of all, the book is printed on scientific coffee filter paper that can be used to filter drinking water and reduce 99.9% of bacteria. Each book has enough filtration sheets to provide its reader with clean water for four years. It’s been distributed in developing countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, Ethiopia, India and Tanzania.

    1. Fog catchers

    Huge mesh nets are being put in place to capture moisture from fogs, which then drip into collection trays after condensation.

    The largest of these projects is on the slopes of Mount Boutmezguida in Morocco, where 6,300 litres of water can be collected daily. The water is clean, free and instant – a ground-breaking feat in tackling water conservation. First developed in South America, fog catching systems now also exist in Chile, Peru, Ghana, Eritrea, South Africa and California.

    How Do We Fair in the UK?

    A poll earlier this year revealed that many UK adults pay no attention to the water they’re wasting at home – with 16% believing it’s completely free. Whilst you may think that rainy Britain will never have a water shortage problem – think again! SES Water research suggests if you divide the rainfall per person, the UK actually gets less rain than Morocco and Turkey – hard to believe right? Therefore, it’s extremely important to address the issue. It’s true the UK is well-known for being a leader in smart water metering technology, however there’s still much room for improvement.

    The water wasting habits British adults are most guilty of include:

    • Leaving the tap on whilst brushing teeth (twice a day) – wastes a whopping 22 litres of water. For those who have a fountain in their garden – this is enough to fill it up! If you calculate the damage done on a weekly basis, that’s 308 litres, which means you’d waste 5,110 fountains in just one year. 
    • Unnecessarily flushing the toilet– even one flush can waste 9 litres of water. This means the average person alone wastes enough to fill almost 140K water bottles per year. 
    • Long showers – as one shower a day can waste 448 litres of water in a week. That’s a mammoth 163K a year which is enough to fill 308 and a half paddling pools! 
    • Taking deeper baths than necessary – as one bath a day uses 80 litres of water which is enough to fill 177 water balloons at a child’s birthday party. If you’re bathing every day of the week, you’d waste 24K water balloons worth of water in just one week.
    • Frequent use of the dishwasher – this wastes 14 litres per wash. The average household uses their dishwasher once a day – and some are guilty of even more. This means that every week one household uses enough water to fill more than an entire 80 litre bathtub. Using your dishwasher unnecessarily costs you 2,555 baths a year.
    • Frequent use of the washing machine – this wastes 50 litres of water per spin – that’s almost 128K litres every year if you use it once a week. This means that every household in the UK is washing their clothes enough to fill at least 102 hot tubs a year. 

    If you’re on a mission to save more water around the house, you can use this calculator to find out how much water your household uses on average. Once you realise how much water you’re wasting, it'll be easier to figure out where to cut back.

    The way we use our water truly does make a difference in so many ways. Taking notes from other countries innovative solutions will help the water wastage problem on a bigger scale. However, whilst you may think that you as an individual can’t make a big difference – think again! All positive social changes, no matter how small or big, start first with you and your decision to do the right thing. The best thing is that saving water doesn’t have to be difficult either. You can save a lot just through simple actions such as:

    • Checking your appliances regularly for leaks, such as your dishwasher, toilet, washing machine, showerheads and taps.
    • Waiting until you have a full load before using your washing machine or dishwasher.
    • Not leaving the tap to run regardless of whether you’re shaving, washing your face or brushing your teeth. By turning off the tap for 2 minutes whilst you brush your teeth – you’ll save 22 litres of water. If you want to go the extra mile, why not switch to automated taps? This way water will only run when your hand is under the tap.
    • Switching to efficient appliances where possible. For instance, eco shower heads and water saving toilets.
    • Shortening your showers or turning off the water whilst lathering up, and thinking of baths as a special treat. If you’re having one bath every day of the week, by cutting down to just one a week, you’ll save 480 litres of water.
    • Only flushing for the toilets specific use and sticking with bins when it comes to things like dirty tissues.

    Once you implement even one these simple changes into your life, you’ll feel amazing knowing you’re doing your part to not only help your household but the planet as well. Saving water at home is the first step in making sure our beloved H20 will continue to flow for generations to come.

    If you are looking for more ways to lead a sustainable life and get started on your eco-journey, take a look at our range of eco-friendly products.

    Methodology

    In this report, we analysed the amount of water wasted (in litres) by common daily activities. Our sources for this quantitative data came from researched carried out by CCW and Glen Canyon Institute. We created a table housing all the various activities that waste water unnecessarily. To put things into perspective, we found additional information to accompany the dataset – how many times each action is performed on average. For instance, our water wastage statistic for showering was based on the average shower length of eight minutes. The amount of water wasted by daily activities, combined with how many times each action is performed, allowed us to calculate how much water each action wastes on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.

     


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