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Tread Lightly: How to save water - and money

Allie Birley discusses the simple changes we can all make.

We can all save water every day.
We can all save water every day.

I am sitting here in shorts and a t shirt because it’s such a scorcher, which has inspired me to write about water conservation in this month’s feature.

If, when you come to read it, there is rain lashing against the window, you may be tempted to laugh at the notion of needing to save water, but that’s exactly what we have to do. The UK’s Environment Agency has estimated that unless we make radical changes, we will be facing serious water shortages in the UK by 2050, with over half of the water companies already saying they are ‘water stressed’.

There are plenty of facts and figures about how much water the average UK person or household uses, but it boils down (pun intended) to the fact that it’s too much. This household water footprint includes drinking water, washing clothes, washing up, cooking, bathing and brushing our teeth. But as always, the main issue is that we are over-consuming and wasting too much.

Below are some easy changes we can all make to save water which will also save money– music to my ears when so many of us are struggling:

  • Swapping from baths to showers is the one we’ve been told for many years. This is still an important way to save water, but it’s not as simple as that. Power showers can use more water than a bath, so to save water and money you ideally want to swap to a low-flow shower head and even get a shower timer. The Energy Savings Trust has calculated that shortening your showers by a minute can give you an annual saving of at least £15 in energy bills, plus £15 on water bills, if you have a meter.
  • Check for leaks in your taps, but also in your toilet. A leaky loo can waste 200-400 litres of water a day.
  • Most water companies will send you a free cistern displacement device (or free flush bag), shower timer and/or toilet leak strips. Unfortunately, our local water company, Anglian Water, is currently out of stock of its kits, but you can keep an eye on their website or purchase from another source. I have the Hippo bag in my cistern which only cost a couple of pounds.
  • Make sure your washing machines and dishwashers are full and check you are running them on the most efficient cycles.
  • Don’t leave taps running, for example when you brush your teeth, or to let the water run cold before filling your glass, as it wastes around five litres of water per minute. I always fill bottles of tap water and put them in the fridge, particularly at this time of year.
  • It’s an oldy, but a goody – only fill your kettle with enough water for the cup or cuppas you are making. This can save you around £6 a year, although its probably more if you are working from home and with the massive increase in our energy bills.

We should also consider the consumption of ‘virtual water’, which is the water used in industries to produce anything from food to clothes, cars to electricity suppliers.

Encourage friends and family to save water too
Encourage friends and family to save water too


Reducing our meat consumption will reduce our carbon and water footprint. The Water Footprint Network has found that on average, around the world, it takes 15,400 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. We can also make savings by eating seasonally and addressing our food waste crisis. In the UK alone, seven billion tonnes of food and drink are thrown away each year and researchers have found that at least half of that could have been used. By cutting our food waste we could each save up to £540 a year.


The water cost of producing one pair of jeans has been estimated as being at least 7,250 litres. Fast and cheap fashion is unfortunately costing the Earth. The industry is looking at ways to become more sustainable and cut down on how much water it uses, including growing and using organic cotton, which is a sustainable choice for many reasons, but it saves water because of the focus on good soil quality, which holds the water more effectively.

With 350,000 tonnes of clothing going into UK landfill each year, this is also a lot of wasted water. You can extend the life of clothes by not washing them as much and the increasing popularity in second-hand clothing is great for the planet, with people donating to and shopping at charity shops or online.

[Read more from Allie - Face it - we need to make our cosmetics a little greener]

You can also try and encourage your company to reduce their water consumption. Again, these measures will save money as well as water and help the business comply with current and future environmental legislation.

The Energy Savings Trust - energysavingtrust.org.uk - is a good starting point for advice for companies and individuals.

You can also make a difference by spreading the word; encouraging friends, family and colleagues to make small changes to ensure we all tread a little lighter by consuming and wasting a lot less.

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