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Most Canadians don't understand water's value

Monday, March 21, 2011   by: Rick McGeeABRIDGED NEWS RELEASE



2011 Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Three quarters of Canadians using toilet as garbage can

Average six to 20 litres of clean fresh water wasted with every flush; most Canadians have 'no concept' of the real value of water, says UN water expert

TORONTO (March 21) - While the majority of Canadians (55 percent) continue to believe that fresh water is the country's most important natural resource and say they are trying reasonably hard to conserve it (78 percent), almost three quarters (72 percent) admit to flushing items down the toilet that they could dispose of in another manner.

Left-over food, hair, bugs and cigarette butts lead the list of items discarded in toilets across the nation, wasting an average of six to 20 litres of fresh, clean water with each flush.

According to the fourth annual Canadian Water Attitudes Study, commissioned by RBC and Unilever and endorsed by the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the United Nations Water for Life Decade, Albertans (83 percent) are most likely to admit to flushing items they could dispose of in another manner, and Quebecers least likely (65 percent).

And young Canadians, 18 to 34, are much more likely than those aged 55 plus to engage in the offending behaviour (84 percent vs. 63 percent, respectively).

Yet, Canadians' knowledge of the quality of the water in their toilet, and the volume wasted, is high.

Eight in 10 (80 percent) know the water in their toilet is just as clean as the water coming out of their faucet , and three quarters (76 percent) are aware that nearly half (45 percent) of water used in the home is flushed down the toilet.

"This data highlights, once again, that Canadians are not making the connection between their personal water use and the true value of water," says Bob Sandford, EPCOR chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. "They claim to care about conserving it, yet knowingly engage in water wasting activities, including using fresh, clean water to dispose of garbage. Canadians need to understand that water is a finite resource and there are significant social and economic implications related to wasting it."

Canadians use, on average, 329 liters of water a day.

According to the survey, nearly seven in 10 (67 percent) Canadians underestimated this amount.

Canadian's water wasting habits such as leaving the water running when doing the dishes (46 percent) and hosing down the driveway (17 percent) are contributing to high water usage.

Canadians don't know what they pay for water

According to the study, Canadians are in the dark when it comes to the cost of water.

While six in 10 (61 percent) admit they do not know how much their household currently pays for water, they actually have a strong opinion about its cost: seven in 10 (70 percent) believe that the unknown price is high enough to ensure water is treated as a valuable resource.

"Water is a real bargain in Canada, which is another reason Canadians have no concept of its value," says Sandford. "Compared to other developed nations, Canadians pay very little to have water delivered to their homes. In France, water costs four times more, and in Germany, almost seven times more. Not surprisingly, average daily domestic water use in these countries is less than half of what it is in Canada. Until Canadians make the connection between personal use of water and its true value, our water wasting habits will continue."

Following are additional highlights from the 2011 Canadian Water Attitudes Study, which has tracked Canadians perceptions and attitudes towards water quality and conservation for the past four years

1) Canadians try a bit harder to save electricity than water:

- Only four in 10 (40 percent) Canadians make the connection between water and electricity, understanding that it requires energy to treat and pump water; one-third (32 percent) don't think at all about the connection

- Nine in 10 (86 percent) Canadians say they try at least reasonably hard to conserve electricity, while only eight in 10 (78 percent) say they try at least reasonably hard to conserve water

2) Confidence in Canada's drinking water growing:

- Canadians' level of confidence in the safety and quality of Canada's drinking water has increased significantly over the past two years, from 72 percent in 2009 to 86 percent in 2011; confidence is highest in British Columbia, at 92 percent, and lowest in Quebec, at 69 percent

- Nine in 10 Canadians (91 percent) who drink tap water in their home are confident in its safety and quality; confidence is highest in Ontario at 97 percent , and lowest in Quebec at 83 percent

- When it comes to the source of water they "typically" drink, almost half (48 percent) drink water directly from their tap; one-third (28 percent) drink filtered water; two in 10 (21 percent) drink bottled water and 14 percent drink water from a large-jug cooler

3) Confidence in Canada's long-term supply of water has also Increased:

- Canadians' level of confidence that Canada has enough freshwater for the long-term has increased over the past two years, from 70 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2011; confidence is highest in British Columbia, at 84 percent; Quebecers are disproportionately less confident at 63 percent

4) Canadians increasingly concerned about the quality of water in Canada's lakes:

- Almost nine in 10 (87 percent) Canadians are concerned about the quality of water in lakes where they swim; Quebecers are most concerned (90 percent), followed by Ontarians and Maritimes (both 88 percent)

Most Canadians (63 percent) believe that the quality of their swimming lakes is getting worse.

About the survey

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted between January 10-17, 2011, on behalf of RBC and Unilever and sponsored by the UN Water for Life Decade.

A sample of 2,066 adults from Ipsos' Canadian online panel was interviewed online.

Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe.

A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100 percent response rate would have an estimated margin of error of ±2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in Canada been polled.

All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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