WE ARE a wasteful nation, especially when it comes to water. On average, each person wastes about 24 1.5l bottles of water each day through domestic usage, which comes up to 36l per person.
According to the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) 2013 statistics, our average domestic consumption is 201l of water per person per day.
That translates to a whopping 134 1.5l bottles of water each day.
Now, compare that to the World Health Organisation’s daily recommendation of domestic water consumption of only 165l a day. Given the difference of 36l of water used per person per day, it is probably fair to say we are a wasteful lot.
Global Environment Centre (GEC) river care programme coordinator Dr K. Kalithasan said water wastage in the country could be the result of the public thinking water is a commodity that is easily bought.
He said there was a lack of appreciation towards treated water and this results in a wastage culture.
But with the current dry spell and water resources drying up due to the clearing of land near water catchment areas as well as increased pollution, there is an urgent need to get people to conserve water and cut waste.
This is where the Water Project comes in. A water savings initiative mooted by the Spark Foundation – a corporate social responsibility arm of Heineken Malaysia – the Water Project engages with communities to reduce water consumption with the installation of water thimbles.
The thimbles are small plastic objects roughly the diameter of a 10sen coin with holes in them, meant to be inserted into taps and shower heads.
The thimbles helped to discharge less water without obvious interruption to the water flow through the faucet. It is estimated that about 30% of water was saved compared to normal use.
The foundation’s project hopes to instil good water use practices as well as support communities to protect water resources.
The water thimble pilot project first took place for three months in mid-2018 at Desa Mentari Block 1 and involved 88 households in Petaling Jaya. On average, a person saved about 20l of water a day, or about 30% reduction.
“Overall, we distributed 300 units of thimbles during the pilot project and they managed to save 418,000l of water during the three-month period.
“Out of the 88 households, about 35 could not continue the project because there were water leakages in their houses due to broken pipes and broken water meter,” Spark Foundation trustee Renuka Indrarajah said, adding that this could also be a matter of concern in other neighbourhoods.
For the second phase of the project, the foundation engaged with four communities, comprising 650 households in Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur that utilise the Sungai Penchala River Basin, to instal water thimbles in their house faucets.
The four neighbourhoods are SS20 Central, Desa Mentari Block 3 and Section 14 in Petaling Jaya as well as Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.
Changes in lifestyle
The SS20 Central residents from Petaling Jaya have been participating in the water thimble project since the end of last year.
The residents did notice some reduction in water consumption since they embarked on the project, but more importantly, they have become committed to changing their lifestyle to reduce water wastage.
This was especially so after learning the correlation between the river and our treated water supply.
Leading the SS20 team, resident Wong Yin Choo said she learnt during the project that while Malaysia had an abundance of rainfall, only rain which fell in the water catchment area could be treated for our consumption.
“I learnt that river pollution starts from us. The purpose of a drain is to channel stormwater into the river. Whatever rubbish that goes into the drain would enter the river too,” said Wong.
As a user of the thimbles, Wong said the water pressure in her neighbourhood was much lower compared with new townships, possibly due to the old piping system.
Adding the thimble has made the water flow from her faucet slightly slower, but she doesn’t mind as it means she is helping to conserve this valuable resource.
She welcomed the project as it has helped residents to understand the importance of water savings.
Wong and several of her neighbours do gather rainwater using pails in their gardens to water plants and clean their porches.
SS20 Rukun Tetangga chairman Eileen Thong said the project was a wake-up call for her. The project made her more aware of all the water she was wasting washing her car.
“It is better to wash the car using high jet water sprays because it uses less water compared with the ordinary water hose.
“We could also wash dirty dishes by soaking it in a basin and rinsing it with clean water in another and this saves water too,” said Thong.
She added that in Australia, residents fit their houses with tanks that harvest rainwater and this is a good model to follow.
“They have a separate piping system to channel the rainwater to their toilet flush systems,” said Thong, who draws inspiration from such practices.
Another resident, Tan Hong Hooi, said adding a capped bottle filled with sand into the toilet cistern increases the water level artificially in the tank, meaning less water is used for flushing.
The neighbours who are part of the Water Project had noticed a reduction in water usage and in their water bill since using the thimbles, said Tan.
Resident Chua Piak Chwee, who has experienced living in less developed countries, said people in some parts of the world rely on murky water for their daily domestic use.
As such, he appreciates the fact that we have safe water from our taps in Malaysia and that we should be thankful for this resource.
At home, he has created his own thimble out of bottle caps (with tiny holes punctured in it) fitted to empty bottles to water the plants. This allows concentrated plant watering and water is saved.
His wife, Hew Soon Ling, who is also into green living, soaks her dirty clothes in soapy water and later, washes her clothes with a shorter rinsing period.
“She uses the remaining soap water to wash the toilet,” said Chua.
Low tariffs and wastage
River expert Kalithasan, who is part of the Water Project, said the public did not see the link between treated drinking water and the impact on nature and the environment.
He said there was no penalty in Malaysia for overuse of water and water tariff was low. These may be factors why the public fails to realise the importance of conserving treated water, which otherwise leads to wastage.
“When I ask the public what do they first look out for in their water bill, they will always mention the water bill amount. Some say they are happy when they do not have to pay the water bill due to the free water schemes.
“We should instead look at how much water we have consumed on a particular month,” said Kalithasan.
“Urbanisation has also played some role in increasing water consumption in the city areas. We are now sourcing water from far-away locations.
“People do not realise the high cost involved in sourcing and treating water. The cost will escalate higher as we go to further to meet the demands of urban areas,” he said. To this end, he said Malaysians should carry out water auditing at schools and even houses to check for leakages.
On the water thimbles, Kalithasan thinks such devices are a step in the right direction and notes that they have been used in states such as Penang and Johor, and that globally, they are known to save water.
But such mechanisms alone are not enough. The government, via SPAN, announced that it is currently drafting a law to make labelling and the use of water-efficient devices mandatory.
The law would compel manufacturers of products such as bathroom fittings and washing machines to label their products according to their water savings efficiency.
However, laws alone are not enough. The public needs to be educated about saving water.
Spark Foundation trustee Renuka said the water thimble kits distribution was supported with community empowerment programmes to drive awareness of the issue as part of the Water Project’s water stewardship agenda from 2018 to 2020.
“Over the past 10 years, we have been working with partners and communities to protect our water resources, mainly rivers, where more than 90% of our water supply comes from.
“Our water conservation training programme, coupled with the distribution of the water thimble in collaboration with the GEC, is our commitment to increase awareness and empower communities to take charge of this valuable resource,” she said.