Water is running from a tap. Would you turn it off?

How many people would walk past a running tap in the street without turning it off? And how much water would be wasted until someone responsible enough to turn the tap off walks past? Those are the questions that were investigated using a drinking fountain installed for a few hours during the Budapest 2016 World Water Summit at one of Budapest’s busiest intersections, Nyugati Square.

We don’t really think about the amount of water we use in a single day. Daily use, such as the water we consume for cooking, cleaning and irrigation, is only a part of the picture. The T-shirt you are wearing cost 2700 litres of water, the jeans: 8000 litres. A single egg costs 20 litres of water until we consume it. Many people don’t even get that much, however: over 1 billion people worldwide live without access to healthy drinking water. In view of our continuously increasing water consumption and the limited water resources of Planet Earth, conscious water consumption is one of the greatest challenges of the near future.

At an event based on the running tap installation and action created by the Turkish company Standart Pompa for World Water Day, the organisers attempted to assess people’s consciousness of their everyday water consumption in Hungary.

We often take for granted not only that we have access to excellent quality, clean drinking water, but also that it is available anywhere, anytime, in unlimited quantities. In an experiment lasting some five hours, over a thousand people walked past a continuously running tap in Budapest’s Nyugati Square. 43 of them stopped to turn it off, i.e. one in twenty-four people actually noted the waste. Many people stopped and looked back, unable to decide whether they should turn the water off, but then they walked on. Some even drank from it and then left it running. The experiment showed that older people are more water-conscious than the young: 60% of those that turned the water off were over the age of 60. But there were also tourists, pregnant ladies, students and businessmen who could not just stand by and watch the water running.

The organisers rewarded the environmentally minded passers by with small gifts, while on the screen installed over the tap, a tree turned green to show when someone protected the environment by stopping to turn the tap off.