Environment Bill Committee Day 6 – Water

We currently use water in an extremely illogical way. Clean, drinkable water is flushed down the loo when there is a really obvious alternative: to not use it. The separation and capture of grey water should be routine, and the Government should make it a requirement in building regs, because the benefits are so blindingly clear.

When we combine the separation and reuse of grey water with the separation of sewage from drainage, we have a much more sustainable water system. I hope that not very long into the future we will look back on the idea of using clean water to flush our toilets and then mixing it with rainwater, before spending huge amounts of money getting the sewage back out, as illogical and disgusting.

I spoke to the Bill: My Lords, just as in the previous group, in this group there are some really forward-thinking amendments that can go a long way to ending our devastating impact on rivers and the wider environment. Some are so good that I have amendment envy and wish I had thought of them—but obviously two Greens cannot be everywhere, although we do our best.

We all seem to agree here that we currently use water in an extremely illogical way. So much clean, drinkable water is flushed down the loo when there is a really obvious alternative: to not use it. The separation and capture of grey water should be routine, and the Government should make it a requirement in building regs, because the benefits are so blindingly clear.

I operate a grey water system at home, which means flushing the loo with my washing-up water. It is very sophisticated. I walk with the bowl from one room to the other, and it works extremely well. The water out of our sinks is likely contaminated with eco-friendly soap, perhaps dirt from our hands, bits of food and things like that, but it is fine for washing our toilets, watering our gardens, even washing our cars—if you have one—and doing a whole host of other things. This relatively simple system will of course hugely cut down on our water usage and the stresses placed on the sewage system, because we automatically cut down our wastewater by almost half.

When we combine this separation and reuse of grey water with the separation of sewage from drainage, we have a much more sustainable water system. I hope that not very long into the future we will look back on the idea of using clean water to flush our toilets and then mixing it with rainwater, before spending huge amounts of money getting the sewage back out, as almost as illogical and disgusting as throwing our toilet contents out of the windows into the open streets, as used to happen a couple of hundred years ago. In truth, we have actually just made it a bit more complicated and put the sewers underground, but in essence it is the same: we are throwing our sewage into our streets.

This should be a priority for the Government, both at home and around the world. The same solutions that will clean up our sewage system in the UK will help clean, safe water systems elsewhere in the world. We have a responsibility to make sure that other countries have safe water supplies. This does all sorts of things, including reducing the risk of disease for millions of people in other countries. Of course, it also significantly reduces our disastrous impact on the earth’s rivers, lakes and seas.

I keep raising the issue of COP 26 but, quite honestly, we have to have something to take there that we are actually proud of. The rest of the world will be watching. It will not be like the G7; it will be a completely different situation in which other countries will judge us on what we are doing here, and I just hope we can measure up.

Read the whole debate on Hansard