I’m not really into celebrity gossip (ok, maybe just a little), but I recall reading a few years ago about Jennifer Aniston’s assertion that she takes only 3-minute showers, supposedly to conserve water and “help the environment.” That always kind of stuck with me, not only because I don’t believe her showers are really that brief (that hair alone could take three minutes to shampoo, condition, and rinse), but I didn’t fully grasp the concept of “wasting” water. Depending on where you live, once the water goes down the drain from a shower, it is generally sent through a filtration system and fed back into the water supply –- which we then shower with again. Not too much wasting of water going on there, per se.
Now, if the water was used to sprinkle your parched lawn — some of which then evaporates — it may not return back to your area in the form of rain. Watering your lawn could then be considered wasteful, in theory. If Jennifer saves water showering in New York, it doesn’t mean there will be more water for showers in third world countries, as she implied. Now, the real “waste” comes into play when you take long hot showers. This “waste” has less to do with the quantity of water, and more to do with the energy required to heat that water, filter it, and then pump it back to your home again. Not only does heating and pumping water use energy, but that energy is then lost once the water swirls down the drain.
It appears that a small company out of Minnesota called Hidden Fuels is experimenting with some interesting ways to generate electricity from this type of waste. Recently featured on NPR, Hidden Fuels is exploring methods to tap into sewers and “capture and distribute unused energy from waste.” Apparently, there’s a heck of a lot of heat down in those sewers. (Which I’d just assume not ponder for too long.)
The tricky part of this endeavor is converting the energy from that waste into something “usable.” And without breaking the bank. There could be sizeable costs in switching over to these systems, but it may balance out in just a few years’ time –- and the environmental benefits certainly cannot be denied. Imagine being able to heat an entire high school with the energy from a single sewer pipe? Pretty impressive stuff. Then maybe Jennifer could add a few more minutes on to her shower and still save the world. But, I’m pretty sure Angelina Jolie already has that one covered.