Yesterday I did the laundry. I put the laundry in the washing machine, added laundry liquid, switched it on, and went away while it did its thing.
And was almost insanely pleased with myself.
What, you are possibly wondering, is there to be so pleased about in the switching on of a washing machine? It’s something the majority of the western world likely does on autopilot without so much as a thought. And considering that said washing machine is not some shiny new A++++ eco-acme of engineering and design, but an ancient, inefficient, leaky and generally bad-tempered monster diverted from a house in the village en route to the lixo, how come I’m grinning rather than cursing?
Well first off, we don’t have a house, let alone plumbing, so the installation of a washing machine presented one or two logistical problems …
On Thursday at market I bought a 200-litre plastic container with a tap in the bottom. The screw thread on the tap just happened to be the same diameter as the screw thread on a standard washing machine cold-water feed, so all I needed was a double-ended connector from the hardware store to connect hose to plastic container, and I had a cold water tank. The hose on the washing machine was just long enough to reach up through a gap in the log store roof to the tank placed directly above it. One of the 50m garden hoses plus plastic funnel from our high-tech irrigation system was enough to reach the barroco and, after a fair bit of bramble-wrestling, there was just enough elevation to get the water to run along and into the tank, so water supply was sorted. A spare bit of cable trunking, which just happened to fit snuggly over the end of the waste pipe, directed the wash water down onto the vegetable garden, so the waste was taken care of. Bingo!
All that remained was to run an extension cable up from the battery house for the power supply, load the machine and switch on.
It works! The gravity feed takes a while to fill the machine – it’s a long way from being mains pressure – but it does the job. And 200 litres isn’t enough for the monster’s full wash cycle so I have to refill the tank for the final rinse, but it beats handwashing, I can tell you! Especially in winter …
Though once I’d stopped being so ridiculously pleased with myself, it was an interesting exercise to reflect on the process and what it had brought to my attention.
Over 200 litres of water for a full wash cycle! Over 200 litres of drinking-quality water turned into detergent-polluted (even if eco-friendly biodegradable detergent-polluted) waste that can only be returned to a healthy state by processing through a grey-water treatment system (= plants+soil). And 200 litres is around 5 times the average amount of water that two of us use for all purposes – drinking, cooking, washing up, washing, cleaning – on a daily basis. (When you have to fetch your water by the bucket, you know how much you use …)
According to Waterwise, washing machines account for 14% of water usage in the average household in the UK. The rest of western Europe is likely in the same ballpark. I did some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations. If we doubled our personal daily water usage and only did one load of laundry a week, the washing machine would still account for more than 25% of our water usage. Clearly this washing machine is one of the most inefficient in existence, but still, what does that say about water usage in the average western European household?
I switched our 2.7kW generator on for the spin cycle and it was toiling (though, to be fair, it was charging the batteries at the same time). Even so, that’s still a lot of power a good mangle could substitute for.
For all the undoubted convenience of a washing machine, I’ll be thinking twice before I switch it on again.