Yeah butt no butt

Garden centres stock them in a range of sizes and colours. You can even get water butts like giant water bottles these days. A big plastic joke for the back garden. Or why not go the other way, and get one disguised as a section of stone wall?

You will need the accessories too, of course. A stand, and the adaptor bit that goes in the downpipe to collect all that precious water for your plants. So you can end up spending a bit of money and consuming a few kilos of plastic – but for what?

Well, by collecting rainwater, you ease the burden on our drinking water system, and the quality is better for your plants, too. Except that it’s acid rain you are collecting. (Remember acid rain? We were all fretting about it before global warming.) If you have a water meter, then your investment will save you a few pennies I suppose. But I imagine that the drinking water argument is what persuades a lot of people to eschew a hose pipe in favour of the old watering can.

I must admit, it seems wasteful to take drinking water and sprinkle it on the roses. There is an environmental cost in building and maintaining reservoirs, water treatment works and the network of pipes to every home. So collecting your own water looks like an environmentally responsible decision. Except there is all that plastic of course. What is the environmental impact of the factories churning out all these water butts, and the lorries delivering them around the country? And what is the end-of-life impact? Not forgetting the fact that the water collection and distribution network is there anyway. Gardeners are just using a small fraction of the total throughput.

What is often the most persuasive argument for water butts is the media pictures of depleted reservoirs in summer time. With stocks down, how can you justify taking precious water supplies for your lawn? Well actually, if you have a water butt that’s exactly what you are doing anyway.

As every schoolboy knows, the rain which falls on your roof eventually makes its way into water reservoirs, does it not? This natural, perpetual cycle is interrupted when you install your own private reservoir, holding back precious litres which used to flow through drains and rivers, eventually to the sea and thence via evaporation up into the sky to fall as rain. No wonder the reservoirs look so empty in summertime nowadays. It’s all those water butts.

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