Monday, April 20, 2009

Because hauling water is too much work for anybody

No Impact Man is my favorite environmental blog, one that has provided much inspiration on my own green journey. The blogger, Colin Beavan, along with his wife and daughter (same age as my own), spent a year trying to make as little impact on the environment as they could, while living in New York City. After the year was up, they evaluated their experiences and decided which modern conveniences they wanted back, and which ones they would continue to live without. They chose to continue to live without TV or air conditioning, deciding that those were luxuries, not necessities.

They chose to bring the washing machine back as a necessity. As Colin explained it, doing laundry by hand is drudgery, and therefore some sort of equipment to make laundering easier is a necessity, not just for wealthy Westerners, but for everyone on the planet.

I got a sense of this yesterday. I was doing laundry, including handwashing several dry-clean only items in the bathtub. (See Ask Annie on how to wet-clean dry-clean only clothing). I washed the items with castille soap, a very mild natural liquid soap, leaving me with gray water when I was finished. Gray water is water that is dirty, but not toxic.

I've read several green tips that suggest recycling gray water by using it to water plants.* Since we're trying to take care of the yard now and we haven't had much rain lately, I decided to try this. After about six trips in which I carried a bucket and my daughter a watering can, we'd only watered a few plants in the yard, the tub was still full, and we were tired. To finish the job might take several hours.

I'm not sure whether those who recommend using gray water this way are talking about watering a couple of houseplants, as opposed to your landscape; and I don't think I've ever read any suggestions about easy ways to haul the water. In any case, I feel about hauling the way Colin feels about doing laundry by hand: it's drudgery for anybody.

In case you're thinking about the fact that in many places in the world, people have to haul water or else they have none: this is true, but it is also why many non-governmental agencies work to provide such communities with close-at-hand, easily accessible water sources, because hauling water is so much work. In places where hauling water is necessary, generally it's women and girls who do it, preventing the women from doing other productive work, and keeping the girls out of school. Most NGO's also know that one of the best ways to help a community rise from poverty is to make sure the women can earn a living and the girls can go to school. So unless I can figure out a better way to move this gray water,** I don't think I'll be using it to water the plants in the yard anymore.


* Some people recycle gray water by using it to flush their toilet. If you pour enough water into a toilet bowl, the pressure will force anything in the bowl down. An advantage to this method is that if the gray water is from the tub, you don't have to haul it anywhere.

** Given the fact that water shortages are a real problem in some places now, and maybe everywhere in the not-too-distant future, it might behoove me to try to find a better way to haul it.

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