Living in the City

Tuesday, January 10, 2006



In order to sustain earth’s water supply and reserve it for future generations, urgent measures must take place. On an international, national, regional, and personal level, water practices must be revised and rescheduled, so as to incorporate clever policies with new, more efficient technologies. Water consumption usually includes a relatively high percentage of water that is lost or wasted. If we can reduce this waste or the losses, we can save water and reduce the consumption. There are three easy ways to really make a difference in saving water:

1) Repair leaks.
2) Reduce daily consumption.
3) Recycle water.


The starting point in reducing wasted water is by always repairing damages that may arise to plumbing installation, taps and toilet cisterns in time. The most common, but not always as obvious damage is leakage. A leak of one drop per second wastes 10.000 litres of water a year. Most leaks are simple to find and easily fixed, at low or no cost. An easy way to check whether the water using appliances and devices leak is by regularly checking the water meter. To do so, you record the meter’s reading, after you have turned off all water taps inside and outside your home, and then, you return after 2 to 3 hours to check if the meter’s reading has changed. If it has changed, you most probably have a leak. Common sources of leaks are a toilet that is running, a constant drip in a sink or outdoor tap, a loose or dripping washer connection, or a sprinkler system.

Leaking toilets may cause more water waste than any other fixture in the home. Even a silent toilet leak (that’s one you normally can’t hear) will waste from 120 to 2000 litr. of water per day, while the ones you can hear will waste much, much more. Such wastage can normally be attributed to a faulty water level adjustment or to a leaky flapper. An easy way of testing whether your toilet leaks is by adding some food dye in the tank, leave it for 15 minutes, and then check into the bowl to see if the coloured water appears in the bowl.

Tap leak detection
Most tap leaks are plainly visible as drips coming out of the tap aerator. Occasionally, taps may leak in other places such as the on/off handle or in the pipes below the basin. If you are unsure if your tap is leaking you might try using your water meter to detect the leak. Leaks should be fixed immediately since they can quickly develop into a serious break. Temporary repairs are only temporary, and wrapping the pipe usually fails. Therefore professional help should be called.

Estimated tap leakage rates
60 drops per minute = 800 litr. per month90 drops per minute = 1200 litr. per month120 drops per minute = 1600 litr. per month

Detecting leaks in the irrigation system:
Inspect your sprinklers and drip sprayers regularly for leaks during the daytime. Fix irrigation system leaks quickly and check for water in the gutters or mud puddles. If you have an older irrigation system, over 50% and even more than 75% of the water can be lost to leaks.


Apart from repairing the leakages, one must always be aware of the amount of water he/she consumes and try to reduce it. The most important thing we all become conscious that simple, personal, everyday practices can really make a difference in overall water supply. Some advice on ways to save water is now presented:

Bathroom (Over half of all water use inside a house takes place in the bathroom):

Do not let the water run while shaving or brushing teeth. You use more than 20 litr. of water if you leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, while if you wet and rinse your brush you only use 1-2 litr. of water each time. If you shave with the water on, you use about 40 to 80 litr. of water each time, while if you fill the basin, you only use 1-3 litr. of water. Savings: up to 39-79 litr. each time you save.
Place a plastic container filled with water (or sand) in the tank of your conventional toilet, making sure it does not interfere with operation of the toilet’s flush mechanisms.This way we save water, by reducing the volume of water every time we flush in the bathroom.
Take shorter showers and less baths and don’t turn the tap on full. Turn off the water while soaping or shampooing. It is preferable to shower rather than bathing in the tub.
Store the water coming from rain and use it in the toilet.

Kitchen and Laundry
Simple practices that save a lot of water:

Use a plug in the sink where possible and do not fill the sink to the top each time you wash dishes (this will save a further 20 litres of water).
Wash fruits and vegetables in a basin, and not under running water. Use a vegetable brush.
Keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the tap run until the water is cool.
Do not use water to defrost frozen foods; thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Scrape, rather than rinse, dishes before loading into the dishwasher; wash only full loads.
By being careful when hand washing clothes, floors, windows etc. you can save at least 4 litres per day.
Wash only full loads of laundry or use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine.
Use food wastes to make natural composting – by pilling it in the garden, instead of using the garbage disposal.

Landscape Irrigation and Other Outdoor Uses (depending on climate, up to 75% of a home’s total water use during the growing season is for outdoor purposes).

Watering plants.
Most water is wasted in your garden by watering when you plants do not need the water or by not maintaining the irrigation system. You can reduce the quantity of water used for irrigation by planting local native plants that require less water and are appropriate for your local climate conditions.
Water the garden during the coolest part of the day (early morning is best) this prevents evaporation during the day due to the sun. Do not water on windy days.
Water trees and bushes, which have deep root systems, longer and less frequently than shallow-rooted plants that require smaller amounts of water more often. Be attentive if you are manual watering by setting your oven timer or some other reminder to move the water promptly.
Set sprinklers to water the lawn or garden only – not the street or sidewalk.
Use soaker hoses or trickle irrigation systems for trees and shrubs.
Use mulch around shrubs and garden plants to reduce evaporation from the soil surface and cut down on weed growth.
Remove thatch and aerate turf to encourage movement of water to the root zone.
Raise your lawn mower cutting height – longer grass blades help shade each other, reduce evaporation, and inhibit weed growth.
Minimize or eliminate fertilizing, which promotes new growth needing additional watering.

Washing the car:
Use a bucket to wash the car, or consider using a commercial car wash that recycles water. If you wash your car using a hose, you can use up to 600 liters of water. A trigger nozzle will save at least 200 liters of water. If you use a self service car wash, you use 60-80 liters. If you use a sponge and a bucket you use 20-60 liters. Savings could be in excess of 100-500 liters each time.

Other outdoor uses:
Sweep driveways, sidewalks and steps rather than hosing off. Using a broom, not a hose, to clean a driveway and steps saves hundreds of liters of water.
When using a hose, control the flow with an automatic shut-off nozzle.
Avoid purchasing recreational water toys which require a constant stream of water.
Do not install or use ornamental water features unless they recycle the water. Use signs to show the public that water is recycled. Do not operate during a drought.
Avoid to have or use a swimming pool in the Mediterranean.


Moving on to another water saving method, water recycling is an option for domestic water users. Good quality water can be saved if lower quality water replaces good quality water, if this can be done without adverse effects. Water from tap can be used at least twice, eg to flush the toilet. Use the water from the air conditioning condenser, dehumidifier, bath, or sink on plants or the garden. Make sure you don’t use water that contains bleach, automatic-dishwashing detergent or fabric softener, because this would contaminate and even kill your plants and vegetables. Additionally, in some areas the state provides a supply of properly treated wastewater which can be used for irrigation, saving the valuable fresh water. In many islands and areas use to collect and use the water from rainfall.

So far, we have discussed ways of saving water based on repairing leaks, reducing daily consumption and recycling water. Homes with high-efficiency plumbing fixtures and appliances save about 30% of indoor water use and yield substantial savings on water, sewer, and energy bills. One can replace old appliances, and apply water saving technologies:

Replace your toilet, the largest water user in your home. Consider purchasing a high-efficiency (6 liters per flush) toilet. If you cannot replace your conventional toilet make sure that you place a plastic container filled with water in the tank of the toilet, in order to reduce the volume of water.
Consider purchasing a high efficiency washing machine which can save over 50% in laundry water and energy use. This saves you money on both your water and energy bills.
Install a modern irrigation system with low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads.
Make sure your irrigation controller has a rain shutoff device and that it's appropriately scheduled. Most water is wasted in months prior to or just after the rainy season when intermittent rains occur.
Install moisture sensors on sprinkler systems.

7. Using Water Efficiency Ideas for Residences’ United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA832-F-99-082, April 2000 [Available online at]



Production and consumption of food puts a lot of pressure on the environment and the ecosystems. Agriculture practices, distribution systems, packaging methods and consumption patterns can be changed in order to put less strain to the environment without compromising our well-being. With our behaviour we can challenge all these aspects of food production.

Buy Organic. At the moment organic produce is more expensive. However, this price doesn’t reflect reality as in organic farming we don’t use any chemical inputs, like fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. The only reason that this food is more expensive is because the conventional foods receive until now many subsidies from the governments and the EU. This practice makes prices fall as the cost falls for producers. If we increase our consumption of organics and make sure to support organic farmers prices might fall and subsidies might divert towards this method of farming.
Prefer buying local food. Transportation of food over big distances is one of the bigger CO2 polluters. Today, sometimes we can find in our local area products more expensive than exactly the same ones imported from a distant area. However, we should support our local farmers and go locally even if we pay a bit more.
Avoid buying food with many layers of packaging. Most of the times they are useless and create lots of waste. Why not buying your food in a local market? In this way you can avoid buying these four courgettes wrapped up with plactic from the supermarket.
Boycott Genetically Modified food. Don’t buy food that contains genetically modified seeds.
Prefer cooking at home or at local restaurants and avoid buying ready made meals, specially fast food. Ready made meals and fast food are usually of low quality, use more energy, and they come with a lot of packaging. Cook using fresh vegetables.
Eat less meat. You will save agricultural land that is used for cultivating animal foods and you will help in reducing methane emissions produced from the cattle. Prefer the Mediterranean diet.



It is pretty obvious that we need energy. Nobody said we should stop our activities tomorrow and light our houses with candles. However, there are many things we can do to save energy and things we can do as well to campaign for alternative sources of energy.

Switch off lights when are leaving the room. It is easy and saves energy.

Washing your clothes at 40 centigrades instead of 60 centigrades will cut out 228 kilograms of carbon emissions per year.
When you wash your clothes load the washing machine or select the half load option.
Prefer drying your clothes naturally and not in a tumble dryer
· Electric appliances that are faulty consume more energy. Fix them or replace them with new ones that come with a decent energy efficient standard.
Appliances doing nothing account for around 10% of household energy consumption. By turning off things such as TVs, PCs and mobile phone chargers at the plug, wou will make substantial savings.
Energy efficient light bulbs produce light using just 20% of the energy needed for ordinary light bulbs.
Consider installing a solar water heater. It will provide you with hot water and will save you loads of money as heating water requires the use of a large amount of energy. During a 20 year period, one solar water heater can avoid over 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
If you insulate your house you can cut out by 30% your heating and cooling needs keeping your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. A good start is to double glaze your windows. In the summer, close your shutters to keep the heat out and open the windows in the night to cool the house down.
Prefer using an electric fan to cool you down in the summer. Avoid using air conditioning.
By turning down your central heating thermostat by just 1 centigrade you could cut your heating bills by up to 10% and still feel comfortable.
Don’t leave your fridge open more than necessary. Defrost it regularly and davoid putting hot food in the fridfge. Wait until it will cool down.
When you are about to buy electrical appliances try to find the ones that are energy efficient. In the table below you can see how much energy you can save doing this simple thing.

Electrical appliances
Energy savings using energy efficient appliances
Washing machine
33% less energy
Dish washer
50% less energy
40% less energy
Light bulbs
75% less energy

Recycle paper, glass and aluminium. Recycled paper uses 30-50% less energy, recycled alumium uses 95% less energy and recycled glass uses 50% less energy.
Campaign for your government to support the development of renewable energy in your country. Support groups working on this issue, visit your Members of Parliament to express your concerns, protest.

1. Climate, A survivor’s guide, Produced by People and Planet, Edinburg, UK
2. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
4. Centre for Renewable Energy Sources,

Monday, January 09, 2006

Practical advices about RRR

Transport is one area that our actions can make a big difference. It is up to us to stop using cars in the city, stop buying big inefficient cars, stop traveling by air when we can do the travel easily by land. We can make the change happen when we give the message that we want to live in greener, less congested cities, when we start pressing governments and local authorities, when we reclaim the streets for the people.

You can start by1:

· Demand from your authorities improved public transportation with more regular services, “cleaner vehicles” and bus lanes. Demand for the use of trams and trolleys.
· Start cycling. It is a good exercise, it is fun, you avoid the traffic jam and it is one of the most environmental way to move around.
Use public transport instead of taking the car
Car-pooling to work is a very effective way of conserving fuel
For short journeys walk, cycle or take the bus. Most emissions from a car occur during the first 15 minutes a car is running, yet 75% of all car trips in the developed world are less than 10 km.
· Service your vehicle regularly. This will make it more efficient conserving fuel and emitting less pollutants in the atmosphere.
· Avoid idling your vehicle. You waste fuel and pollute without a reason. Remember ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine. Start driving correctly. Avoid sudden speeding, clutching or breaking, don’t over-speed and don’t over-load.
· Demand for more green and open spaces and less parking sites


· Avoid using airplanes for short distances. Planes pollute more per passenger per kilometre than trains and buses.The greenhouses produced by airplanes are emitted directly higher in the atmosphere making it three times more damaging than a car going the same distance2.

· Prefer traveling by land. It is a good way to feel your trip as you enjoy the in between scenery, you can meet new people and gain experiences. The European Rail Network is fairly good and can take you to the major European countries fast and safely. There are some offers for young people as well, that want to travel in Europe and in some regions outside Europe with cheap fares. Check the following websites for information:,


· When you buy a car check how much fuel they consume. Today car companies have the technology to make super efficient cars but they still manufacture big inefficient cars for profit reasons. The average American family owns a big 4x4 vehicle. These vehicles consume much more fuel from the normal cars, emit at least 70% more NOx and make traffic in the city even worse. It is very ironic when we think that an average family doesn’t really need this kind of “car”, actually it is more a truck rather than a car.

· Avoid buying two seat sport cars. Their use is limited and you will probably need a bigger car at some point when you will want to carry more people.

· See if you can find electr(on)ic cars or scooters. They are not 100% environmental friendly as they use electricity (which is provided by fossil fuels) but they have zero pipe emissions that help in a less suffocating atmosphere in the city.


It is a usual phenomenon people commuting to go to their workplace. That creates the need for transportation and usually people prefer doing it with their own car. We can try to find work near our house or find a house near our workplace. This will have a double benefit: saving our free time for ourselves and creating less pollution. As well you can check if your future job has good public transport links. Is there a bus stop near your work?

Something similar is preferring buying products from the groceries and super markets of our neighborhood rather than driving kilometers to go to a big supermarket.

All these are of course things that sometimes people cannot avoid doing. So, we need to put pressure on the authorities to plan the cities so that they provide people with facilities in every neighborhood.

Greener and open spaces and a friendlier city can reduce traveling often outside it in our effort to spend some time in the nature.

Climate, A survivor’s guide, Produced by People and Planet, Edinburg, UK,