The key to reducing water consumption is using it efficiently. Today’s water-using systems and technology not only use less water, but do so with little or no impact on users.
By Klaus Reichardt
The hospitality industry has long been considered one of the largest users of water per square foot of all industrial sectors in the United States. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that hospitality and food-service establishments account for approximately 15% of the total amount of water used in commercial and institutional facilities.
Just take a look around at a restaurant’s operations and you will see that water is being used virtually everywhere — for cooking, washing dishes, rinsing and cleaning food items, serving guests, cleaning kitchens and the front of the house, and landscaping, as well as in restrooms.
Sometimes we forget how much water is used in bathrooms, primarily because so much water is being used in the kitchen. But the EPA says restrooms are second only to kitchens regarding where the most water is used in a food-service location.
So how much water do restaurants use? We can only point to averages, but typically the numbers look like this:
- The typical sit-down property uses 3,000 to 7,000 gallons of water per day, with 6,000 gallons considered about average.
- This 6,000 gallons per day translates into more than 2 million gallons of water being used per year for that one property.
- The United States supports an estimated 621,000 restaurants. This means, collectively, all of these properties consume more than 1 trillion gallons of water annually.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce consumption and, by doing so, keep more money in the cash register. Water-using systems and technologies have been introduced that not only use less water, but do so with little or no impact on users. The difference is that these new technologies use water much more efficiently.
To start using water more efficiently — which refers to long term water reduction — we need to study where and how water is used in the restaurant. This is essentially what a water audit is all about.
Often, the easiest way to do this is to develop a water audit template. Using a standard process such as a template, the audit can typically be conducted in-house. The template below covers some of the key elements inside a restaurant that should be included in any water audit:
- Property name (restaurant name) and address and date of audit.
- Age of the building (older buildings may have more water-related issues than a newer property).
- Current monthly and annual water consumption in gallons (we can use these figures as our benchmark).
- How many people work in the kitchen?
- How many kitchen sinks and faucets are there?
- What is the flow rate of kitchen faucets and spray nozzles?
- Do faucets have aerators?
- Do refrigerators use water coolant systems?
- Do refrigerators have ice makers? If yes, are they water-cooled or air-cooled?
- Does the kitchen use garbage disposals (these require water to work efficiently)?
- Are dishwashers approved by WaterSense (verifying they use water more efficiently)?
- What is the average number of dishwasher loads run per day?
- Is there a washing machine on-site? Is it WaterSense certified?
- How many loads of laundry are run per week?
- How is the kitchen floor cleaned (hose cleaned, mopped, pressure washed)?
- How many toilets and urinals are in restrooms? How many gallons of water do they use per flush?
- How many waterless (no-water) urinals are installed in men’s restrooms?
- Do restroom faucets have aerators?
All of the items listed above, in one way or another, determine how much water is used in a restaurant property. What’s more, wherever water is used, there is invariably one or several ways to use it more efficiently.
Putting the Audit into Action
Now that we have completed our audit, let’s see where we can begin using water more efficiently.
A very good place to start is with the low-hanging fruit. These are items that can be addressed quickly and at minor expense. For instance:
- Fix any leaks uncovered by the audit. A cold-water leak that loses 0.2 gallon per minute will waste more than 100,000 gallons of water over the course of a year. This can cost a restaurant about $700 annually; that cost doubles if the leak is dispensing hot water.
- Ensure all faucets have aerators; 2.8-gallon-per-minute automatic-shutoff spray nozzles can be replaced with 2.0-gallon-per-minute models.
- Run only full loads in the dishwasher.
- Instead of using a garbage disposal, which requires water, compost more food waste.
- Serve guests water upon request.
- Clean kitchen floors with an automatic scrubber or auto-vac system. A garden hose uses about 9 to 20 gallons of water per minute, depending on the size of the hose. While mopping the floor does reduce water consumption, it is no longer considered an effective way to clean kitchen floors. Automatic scrubbers or less costly auto-vac systems use far less water and are now considered the most effective way to clean commercial kitchen floors.
- Pay attention to water consumption; all to frequently this gets lost in the shuffle of running a busy restaurant.
Taking these steps can make a significant dent in restaurant water consumption. Other steps that can further reduce consumption and increase water efficiency include turning off continuous-flow systems wherever possible, presoaking utensils in basins of water rather than rinsing in running water, and installing water-diversion systems. A water-diversion system diverts water used in the kitchen, for instance, to be used for other purposes, such as flushing toilets.
With these steps taken, it’s now time to turn our attention to the restrooms, which the EPA says are second only to kitchens in water use. Some steps we can take here include replacing older (or damaged) toilets, which may use as much as 4 gallons of water per flush, with newer systems that use 1.6 gallons per flush. Similarly, older urinals use about 3 to 5 gallons of water per flush. Newer systems use about 1 gallon.
According to The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization promoting global sustainability, updating toilets and urinals alone can cut a restaurant’s water use by as much as 16%. But after the last drought in Southern California, many restaurant owners and foodservice establishments have gone even further. Many are now using dual-flush toilets that use about 1.25 gallons of water per flush, and many have installed waterless urinals. These systems save as much as 30,000 gallons of water per urinal per year.
Sometimes restaurant owners, just like car wash owners, feel they are “targeted” when it comes to water consumption. Water is necessary to operate their businesses, so some believe asking them to reduce consumption is like asking them to scale back on their businesses and profits.
No one is asking business owners in these industries or elsewhere to take a hit. Rather, we all must use water more efficiently now and in the future. What’s more likely is that these businesses will see an improvement to their bottom line as they increase their water efficiency. With these benefits realized, restaurant owners will begin using water so much more efficiently that when they look back, they will be surprised by just how much water they were consuming years ago.
— Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., based in Vista, California. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. Along with the Waterless No-Flush urinal, which works completely without water, the company manufactures other restroom- and plumbing-related products.