According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, restaurants use an average of 5,800 gallons of water per day. That’s more than two million gallons of water per year for just one restaurant. Another study estimates that each meal served in a restaurant requires the use of six to 30 gallons of water.
Not only are these huge amounts of water, they come with growing price tags. The cost of water is going up in virtually all areas of the United States, and in some localities, these rising costs are significant.
The other cost issue related to water is the price of delivering water to and from restaurants. This requires energy, which also costs money. In California, it’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of all the energy used in the state is needed to deliver/remove water from homes and commercial locations. As the cost of energy increases, these costs will also impact the cost of water. Fortunately, there are steps and new technologies that can help you reduce water consumption.
The first step, while intangible, is possibly the most important one of all. It involves creating a “water-conservation culture.” A water-conservation culture in a restaurant is a mind-set instilled into and shared by all employees. Everyone becomes focused on conserving water and eliminating water waste. Some of their most effective water-reduction strategies often come from staffers, who are most aware of how water is being used in the restaurant and where it can be saved or used more efficiently.
Because about half of restaurant water use occurs in the kitchen, a good place to start a water-reduction strategy is in the food prep area, starting with the dishwasher. Replacing older or conventional dishwashers with ENERGY STAR systems can reduce water consumption by as much as 25 percent, according to ENERGY STAR.
Other steps to take to reduce kitchen water use include:
• Turn off continuous-flow systems to beverage islands.
• Presoak utensils in basins of water rather than running water.
• Consider installing water-diversion systems, which divert water used in the kitchen for other purposes, such as flushing toilets and urinals. The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting global sustainability, says these relatively inexpensive systems, which are quite common around the world, can reduce domestic water consumption by as much as 50 percent; similar savings are possible in foodservice locations. Keep in mind, though, that some communities have restrictions on the use of diverted or “gray water” in restaurants.
• Avoid using hoses to wash down kitchen floors; select mops and buckets or “crossover” cleaning systems that dispense water and chemical directly to the floor and do not require the use of mops.
Another area that uses a lot of water is the restroom. Here is where some of the newest and most effective water-reduction technologies have been developed in recent years. Older toilets use, on average, 4.5 gallons of water per flush. Replacing them with newer systems that use 1.6 gallons per flush can cut a restaurant’s water use by more than 16 percent. Even better, dual-flush systems use only about 1.25 gallons of water per flush, which can reduce water consumption even further.
Similarly, older urinals use about 3 to 5 gallons of water per flush. Newer systems use about 1 gallon. Many restaurants have taken this a step further and installed waterless urinals, which can save as much as 40,000 gallons of water annually per unit, and even high-end hotels in drought-stricken Southern California have turned to waterless urinals to help reduce water consumption.
Finally, one of the simplest ways to avoid wasting water is to repair leaks. A cold-water leak that loses 0.2 gallons per minute will waste more than 100,000 gallons of water over the course of a year and can cost a restaurant, on average, about $700 in water. That cost more than doubles—to about $1,700—if the leak is dispensing hot water.
Except for a brief period during the 1930s, Americans have essentially taken water for granted, believing it’s plentiful and cheap. That era is coming to an end and far faster than we think. This means all of us, including restaurant operators, are going to need to step up to the plate and do their part in using water more efficiently.
Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc. in Vista, CA. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. Reichardt is the inventor of the waterless no-flush urinal. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.