Bathroom Blues

By Mary Alice Hartsock

The sun hasn’t even come up yet, but your alarm is persistent. You stumble to the bathroom, turn on the shower, stare into the mirror, head back to your bedroom to find your towel, turn on your iPod, undress, grab your products, and finally jump into the steaming water.

As you wake up in the shower you’re probably thinking about your to-do list. Before you even leave home, you might take out the recycling, fill your water bottle, and pack your lunch in a reusable container—all great ways to protect the environment. But even before you started your mental to-do list, you’ve made a big mistake. Do you recognize it now that you’re awake?

That’s right. Gallons of water went down the drain before you even stepped into the shower. The water was nice and hot, which means a chunk of energy went into warming it. Don’t get us wrong—we love toasty showers, and mornings can be rough even for the greenest of environmental advocates. We constantly have to remind ourselves that what we do in our homes— and especially in our bathrooms—has a significant impact on the environment. It’s extremely important to educate ourselves and our families on how we can better conserve the earth’s natural resources.

Consider the shower, for example. One way to save water is by taking showers instead of baths. While a bath can use up to 70 gallons of water, a 10-minute shower under the average low-flow showerhead— which uses 2.5 or fewer gallons of water per minute—will require about 20 gallons of water. You can buy a low-flow showerhead at any home improvement store for less than $20.

The average person uses nearly 20 gallons of water a day—about 7,300 gallons a year—just by flushing the toilet. If your toilet was installed after 1992, you likely have a low-flow toilet that saves water. Many toilets display the manufacturing date right on the inside of the tank. If your household has a standard toilet, fill a plastic bottle with sand or rocks and put it into your tank. The bottle will take up space and trick your toilet into filling with less water.

Have you ever considered whether you use more toilet paper than you really need? Trees help fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide, yet every day, we cut down about 27,000 trees worldwide to make toilet paper. Think about the difference you could make by using less or switching to singleply toilet paper!

Then there’s the sink. Turning off the water when you’re brushing your teeth is essential, but did you know there are ways to make a smaller impact when you do run the water? For less than $10, you can add an attachment called an aerator to your faucet at home. You’ll save about 700 gallons of water each year. That’s enough water for about 40 showers.

We hope these suggestions will give you a place to start when talking with your family about saving water and energy. Making these changes can be hard at first, but just starting a conversation can lead to important changes down the road. Get more resources and tips at

Looking for an interactive way to learn about water and our watersheds? We have options for kids and adults alike! March 22 is World Water Day, and throughout the weekend of March 21 and 22, we’ll have special guests at the Academy to talk about water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be at Science Now from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. both days with an interactive flood plain simulator. Find out what FEMA is all about and how you can contribute to the health of your local watershed. Purchase tickets now.

You also can join the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University for Tapping our Watershed, a monthly science café in Philadelphia that brings lovers of water science together for conversations with top experts in the field. These talks are sophisticated enough for the experienced scientist but formatted for the casual guest who is interested in tapping into watershed issues on a deeper level. Tapping our Watershed is held the third Monday of the month at National Mechanics at 6 p.m. The talks are intended for individuals 21 or older, but those under 21 can come with a chaperone who is at least 25. Tapping our Watershed is sponsored by the William Penn Foundation.

The article originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of our Member Magazine, Academy Frontiers. 

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