When Cape Town’s water crisis became global news, a reporter looked into how the tourism industry was coping with the problem. Apparently, there was a hotel that asked its patrons to avoid flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary (they had used a colourful slogan about letting the yellow mellow and flushing down the brown). It seems like a ghastly thing to do, especially since we are taught as young children to ALWAYS FLUSH. It isn’t a totally crazy request from the hotel, though, since more than half the water usage of every home is used to simply get rid of human waste. The percentage obviously increases in restaurants and other public buildings.
Since summer is around the corner, and water will slowly become an important preoccupation for many parts of the country, let’s try and understand the water that enters our homes and how it leaves.
There are three types of water in every home – white, grey, and black.
1. White Water: This is the water that comes in through the taps or is collected from wells or pumps in the neighbourhood. White water is the cleanest water, and in most parts of the world, it is potable after minimum intervention (boiling and/or filtering). White water is used for cleaning, washing, watering plants, drinking, and cooking. Many megacities of the world are suffering a shortage of white water because groundwater, or lakes and reservoirs in the region cannot keep up with the demands of growing populations.
Even though most of the earth’s surface is covered with water, less than 3% is fresh water and this miniscule percentage includes the water in glaciers and ice caps. The 3% is servicing the needs of over 7 billion people in the world and per capita consumption of water increases with consumerism because nearly every industry needs a heavy input of water (the cost of making a single sheet of paper is about 10 litres of water). On a personal level, a household uses more than half its quota of white water in the toilet. A single flush can use up to 20 litres of water.
2. Black Water: On the other end of the spectrum is black water. This is water that has come into contact with human faecal matter. Most plumbing systems in urban settings segregate black water and send it to sewage treatment plants. So more than half the water that is painstakingly delivered to every household is again transported to centralised structures that decontaminate the water in order to release it into the ocean or other water bodies. Some countries with almost no freshwater sources find innovative methods for recycling black water. Singapore created a brand called NEWater to create potable drinking water from sewage. On the other hand, cities in developing nations across the world are considering decentralising this process and are shunning sewers altogether.
3. Grey Water: This is water that has been used for a number of purposes and can contain a stunning variety of chemical and organic products. If white water comes into contact with your dishes and the dishwashing soap, by the time you rinse out your plates and spoons, the mixture of water, cooked food, and soap is a sadly unusable grey water. The same goes for the water that comes out of the bath, or the leftover (literally grey) water after the floors are mopped. Grey water was traditionally diverted towards a clump of plants or the banana trees in the back yard. However, this is no longer possible because of the high concentration of surfactants in cleaning products. Even the hardiest Canna Lily plants or banana trees can’t survive the onslaught of Harpic. However, if users become a little more cautious about their cleaning products, a simple change in the plumbing systems can allow grey water to be recycled in situ.
An estimate of water usage in India says that a four-person household uses about 1000 litres of water every day. In cities like Bangalore, much of this is supplied by water tankers (in spite of the city’s founders creating a fantastic system of lakes to quench its thirst) and constitutes a big chunk of the ‘maintenance’ costs of any apartment.
Reach out to us for more information about the water usage of your commercial or domestic establishment. We will try our best to point you towards local experts who can solve your water woes.