Friday, November 04, 2005

Save Water, Cut Hair

Those readers in the UK who have been following avidly Penney Poyser's series on No Waste Like Home might remember the scene where she shows us how to shower.

Yes, wet, soap and rinse. No problem there. But when it comes to hair, her advice was wet, turn off shower, shampoo, and then rinse. We saw footage of her shampooing her beautiful long black hair.

My toes froze.

The idea is that we do not waste water by leaving the shower on while we shampoo. Easy to do that in the summer, but in the freezing weather, we tend to leave the shower on (I do, I'm afraid), face away from the shower and shampoo while the warm water keeps me, well, warm.

This is a far cry from being in Singapore where typically we turn off the shower to soap and shampoo. But it's constantly 33 degrees C out there.

In fact I remember when we had droughts and the daily national water consumption and (lack of) rainfall were closely monitored.

As we do not have large porcelain/enamel/whatever bath tubs in our little flats, children are usually bathed in plastic bowls ('basins' as we call them in Singapore) serving as bath tubs. Adults use a large sturdy plastic bowl to hold warm water (boiled in a kettle and mixed with the cold) for a 'splash bath'. Only in more recent years did electric showers with instant hot water become a feature of new homes.

In a drought, my practice was to shower standing in one of these plastic basins. After the standard wet-soap-rinse, the water collected is then reused, usually to flush the toilet.

Although we had a flush toilet in our flat, for years Mum would keep water from her laundry (all done by hand) in huge buckets by the toilet and we then used this water to flush the toilet. Even after illness took a toll on her health and we bought her a washing machine, she still piped the waste water from the washing machine into as many buckets and basins as she could find to save this water for flushing the toilet.

Saving water, or rather not wasting it, is not something we did only in droughts. It was a standard practice in our household. But if you thought using water twice was primitive, think about using water three times.

I made two visits to rural North Thailand villages in my undergraduate days on 'mission trips'. In the first the five of us in the group didn't realize that the trough of water in a little shed with a squat toilet was for flushing the toilet. We used that water to brush our teeth. O, and we prayed really hard.

On my second visit, this time on my own, I learned that in this particular set-up (an orphanage), they keep drinking water (rain water or water from a well) in a trough outside the kitchen. Typically, water used to clean food (vegetables eg) or to wash our hands was retained to be used again for washing up after meals. Water that had been used twice and now a bit murkier was then put into the trough in the toilet (from which my friends and I had been using water for teeth-cleaning two years earlier).

Imagine my shock when I saw my husband leaving the tap running while brushing his teeth. (He's been set right since.)

For those who can't, like Penney, bear to turn off the shower while we shampoo, my solution is simple: keep your hair short. We use less shampoo, we clean it quicker and therefore use less clean water.


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