The hypocrisy of water

Nice pool for the tourists and rich people

I took a shower this morning in the hotel in Kuala Lumpur. A pretty long one with lots of steam and sudsy bubbles everywhere. If you read my post over on BlueSkyAcademy, you know that we started off in a rented local apartment this week. It had a more typical setup for plumbing.

The hot water heater
The hot water heater

The government turns the water supply on and off depending on how much there is to go around. Right now is the dry season, so the supply is unpredictable. The way people cope with this insecurity is by hoarding… you have a tank located up as high in your house or apartment as you can get, then you run your water supply from the city to that tank and leave the tap open. When the water is turned on by the city, the tank fills nonstop, even overflowing down the drain when overfull. When the supply gets cutoff, you have a certain amount of water to draw from for cleaning,  toilet flushing (if you have a toilet), cooking, etc.

The "spare" water for flushing, washing, etc.
The “spare” water for flushing, washing, etc.

You would be shocked if you knew how much water you use in a day’s time. One easy way to find this out is by pouring it out and dispensing manually every time you use it.

The previous apartment we were in had a tiny (TINY) wall-mounted water heater in the bathroom. It had a handheld shower head on it. To bathe, you turned the switch on the heater and waited while it made a blender-like noise and began to dispense water feebly. Wet yourself down, turn it off. Lather up, wash yourself, then turn it back on and wait for the warm trickle to commence and rinse off.

If you want to learn why we left, head over to the post I mentioned above. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t because of the water.

I am thinking about how much water I use, though – both here while traveling and back at home in the US. That shower I took probably used 25 gallons of water.

This pool is less than 200 yards from the apartment building pictured above.

Nice pool for the tourists and rich people
Nice pool for the tourists and rich people

Because of the dodgy quality of the water supply here, it isn’t safe to drink. Enter the plastic water bottle. As a family, we are buying drinking water in 1.5 liter bottles of water each day. At 3 per day, we’ll use 90 of these bottles in a month. They are recyclable, but there isn’t any infrastructure here to recycle them, so they get thrown away.

I’m struck by the waste of this whole setup and by the challenges facing us. Not to be overly doom-and-gloom here, but it takes a lot of oil to make and ship these bottles of water around. Millions of them get used each day and discarded. Seems like there should be a better way to do this.

For now, we have one Katadyn refillable bottle that filters out filthy bits and other contaminants, but it isn’t a viable long term solution. The cartridges it uses are themselves made from plastic and nasty chemicals (and they’re expensive). I’m considering getting a UV filter called a Steri Pen so we can use local water, but if you’re a parent, do you take the chance and give your kids water that you think you filtered well enough? Maybe.

At any rate, don’t think the hypocrisy escaped me that I thought about all of this while taking my hot, steamy 10 minute shower.

I’m wasting water right alongside you, my friend. I’m thinking about it all though.

What might we do?

Click on the graphic below for a link to some info by the Natural Resources Defense Council about the effects of using bottled water.

The Plastic Water Bottle Effect

by heck14.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.



  1. At least you now realize the absolute luxury of a long, warm shower! A warm (or cool) room (depending upon the season) is also something to be truly grateful for – not to mention dependable electricity to light it and to refrigerate your food. We have it lucky here and going somewhere else really makes you appreciate that!

    Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures.

  2. Andy, I really take my municipal water supply here in Cincinnati for granted. I’m enjoying your posts and photos.

Comments are closed.