LITTLE STEPS: Down The Drain

Today I thought I’d take a look at something that I think all of us are guilty of doing at some time or another. How often do you contemplate your pipes? Ever wondered about the journey your dish water takes once you pull that plug? Ever stopped to consider exactly how many drops of used cooking oil it takes to kill a fish? Or an ecosystem? This post could be accompanied by some graphic and horrible images, but I thought I’d post photos of some creatures I’ve met on my travels instead. Creatures who can remind us just how important it is to take the extra effort at home to protect our waterways.

A tiny crab we discovered in Fiji

A tiny crab we discovered in Fiji

We use water in diverse ways in our homes: cooking, cleaning, washing, playing, soothing, nourishing, drinking, and of course, flushing. But whatever the reason, all the water we use, whether at home or out and about, makes its way via drains to the sewerage system. Still with me? Not the most fascinating topic, I know. But our lack of interest in our drains is causing damage to our waterways, and the ecosystems they support. What goes down the plug hole, also has to come out somewhere, and for most homes it’s the sewerage system. After treatment, this water then rejoins the water supply for reuse, or is released into creeks, rivers, and oceans. When we don’t pay attention to what we’re putting down the drains, the entire system is affected, which can:

1.block and damage pipes, causing expensive damage to individual houses, and can also damage neighbouring properties and the sewerage treatment facilities. A build up and/or leakage of sewerage is also a health hazard (and stinks like nothing else)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     2.limit the amount of water available for reuse                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3.effect the health of waterways

Coral in Australia

Coral in the crystal clear waters of the NSW south coast in Australia

Drains are for waste water. Nothing else. But some of the things that continue to turn up down the line include: food scraps (meat, egg shells, coffee grinds, tea leaves,vegetable peelings, bread and cake scraps, confectionery, dairy products); chemicals (paints, cleaners, petrol and other fuels, cosmetics, pesticides, antifreeze, pain thinner, turpentine, nail polish and remover, other household and industrial chemicals, inks); plastics (produce stickers, wrappers and packaging, toys, residues, bags); dead animals; condoms; cat litter; female sanitary products; needles; medicines; nappies; oils and grease (motor oils, lubricating grease, cooking oils). If it doesn’t come out of the tap, it shouldn’t go down the drain!

Sea horse in Brazil

Sea horse in Recife, Brazil

Now most of these I would think are obvious, but obviously they’re not! I think that a lack of awareness of the entire process, combined with an apathy which comes from an ‘out of mind, out of sight’ mentality, generates actions of convenience and not consciousness. How could anyone be aware of where that condom, nappy, or bottle of RoundUp will end up, and still flush it away? So working from the premise that information and education can overpower apathy, here’s an easy list to follow to help our precious water resources:

STRAIN: use a sink strainer to catch the debris that would ordinarily go straight down the sink when you rinse in the laundry, bathroom, and kitchen.

SCRAPE: veggie scraps, bread, egg shells, coffee grinds, and other food scraps can be put to use in your compost heap. Scrape your plates, pots and pans before washing them. General consensus, however, is that meat and dairy scraps can only be used in Bokashi type systems. If you can’t have an outside compost heap, Bokashi and other indoor systems can fit easily on a bench top in the smallest apartment. However, if you can’t compost, consider saving scraps for neighbours, or a community compost scheme. If you must throw your scraps out, put them straight into your collection bin rather than putting them in a plastic bag first, as this will allow them to break down easily and quickly once they arrive at the landfill site. Many meat and veggie scraps can also be saved in a container in the freezer to make your own stock.

WIPE: wipe oily dishes, pots and pans with paper towel before washing them. This paper towel can then be thrown away, or ideally, put in the compost. If you have a large quantity of used cooking oil, put it into a container to throw away, or dig a small hole in the backyard and bury it (without the container!). In some places, cooking oil can be collected for recycling- check with your local council.

RESPECT: respect our waterways by respecting your toilet: it has to cope with enough grossness! Nappies (diapers), sanitary products, condoms etc belong in the bin. Not in the toilet. Simple. As. That.

CHECK: check with your local council or garbage authority how to dispose of household and industrial chemicals and oils in your area.

RETURN: take unwanted and expired medications back to the pharmacy. They will dispose of them safely.

MINIMISE: Use less dish washing and laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner. The average consumer uses three or more times the amount actually required for the task. Reducing the amount you use reduces the amount that ends up down the drain in the first place. (Incidentally, did you know that the instructions ‘rinse, lather, repeat’ on shampoo bottles were added after marketing experts decided it would be an effective way to sell more shampoo, by leading consumers to believe they needed to use at least twice as much as necessary?) Minimise harm by using products with the least harmful ingredients. This includes chemicals in toiletries (which harm you as well!), and chemicals and salts in laundry detergents. Better still save money, your health, and the environment by making your own! I’ll write on this soon.

REMEMBER: if it’s not water it doesn’t go down the sink. And water doesn’t mean any liquid. It means WATER!

Stingray in Fiji

A little stingray in Fiji

So, are you a drain on the environment? How difficult do you think it will be to change your habits?

All words and images ©Raw Once More


About Raw Once More

Recovering workaholic chronically ill perfectionist starting all over again (again!). After a crazy life (including running away with the circus), I'm learning to stay still and journeying towards health, happiness, and wholeness, by nourishing myself and the Earth. Interested in frugality, simplicity, creativity, sustainability, myo/diy, and living healthily with autoimmune disease.

Posted on May 16, 2013, in Eco-Friendliness and Sustainability, Little Steps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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