How Big is Your Water Footprint?

Reader Contribution by Ruth Barton
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While the majority of people are aware of and may make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, not so many people know about their water footprint and how their everyday decisions can impact it.

An individual’s water footprint is not restricted to the water they use to wash, cook and drink with, this only makes up a minority of their overall water consumption. The remaining impact of our water footprint is made up from indirect use, on the crops we use to feed ourselves and livestock, into the materials we wear and to make all of the food that we eat.

Amount of Water in Everyday Products

Most people are surprised at the amount of water it takes to produce simple, everyday products that we consume without thinking. Here is a list of the water required for commonly used items, to help put it into perspective, remember 2 liters is a large bottle of fizzy drink.

1. That egg you had for your breakfast required a huge 200 liters of water to produce. That’s 100 bottles for that egg alone!

2. The number of liters to produce 1lb of cheese is 2,500. Remember, it’s not as simple as turning milk into cheese, a cow has to be fed on grain to be milked to make the cheese – and cows eat a lot.

3. 4,650 liters of water are needed to produce a 0.6lb steak and a huge 16,600 liters of water are required to produce as little as 2.2lbs of leather.

4. That simple T-shirt you wear? That took around 2,700 liters of water to produce. Think twice before you go clothes shopping. Do you really need anything new? Consider going to the thrift store and getting something second hand.

It is imperative to take into account the impact that your personal and your family’s water footprint is having on the environment. But, why should we be mindful of our water footprint, water doesn’t run out!

While there is plenty of H2O on the planet for our 7-billion-people-strong planet, unfortunately it is distributed unevenly and a lot is wasted, filled with pollutants or not managed sustainably.

There are currently around 700 million people in 43 countries suffering from water scarcity today. By 2025, this figure is expected to increase by 250 times to a massive 1.8 billion, meaning one third of the world’s population will be living under stressed water conditions.

We are currently taking our water situation for granted and gallons of water are being wasted each day. However, by managing our water footprint properly, we can ensure the way we use it is sustainable and future proof.

Here are a few simple steps that do not require any drastic lifestyle changes that will help reduce your water footprint, and likely improve your finances.

Cut Down Your Home Water Use

When you shower. Shave off the time spent in the shower by just one minute and you could save up to $25 per person in your utility bills and between 547 and a massive 2,007 gallons of water per year.

Making tea and coffee. When you fill the kettle, make sure you only use enough water for the cups you will be filling. A good way to do this is to pour water into the cup and then into the kettle, this way you will waste no water at all. We all know that the UK are a nation of tea drinkers, but staggeringly – if they only boiled the water they were using, over the course of the year they could save enough money to generate all of the street lights in the UK for two months.

Laundry and dishes. Try and only use the dishwasher and washing machine when you have a full load. This will save you between 130 and 400 gallons of water and mean you have to do less cleaning!

Turn off that faucet! When you’re brushing your teeth make sure that the water is not still running. Leaving it on can waste up to 1 gallon of water each minute which is completely unnecessary  , wasting your money and the planet’s resources.

Taking Larger Steps to Reduce Water Usage

Eat less meat. The consumption of animal products is responsible to more than 25% of the world’s entire water footprint. By changing to a vegetarian diet permanently it is possible to reduce your footprint by a huge 36%, of course, this isn’t feasible for a country filled with meat lovers, so try to go for one meat free day each week. Do this every day for a year and it will cut 68,000 litres off your annual water footprint.

Responsibly farmed products. Where possible, look to buy responsibly farmed and sustainable produce. Farms that incorporate effective water management and land drainage systems into their everyday processes are far more conscious of their water usage and use it more responsibly.

Don’t buy what you won’t eat. The food we consume accounts for a huge part of our water footprint. Simply being mindful when you do the grocery shopping will mean that you’ll be throwing out less and not wasting the water used to produce your food. Millions of tonnes of food is thrown into the garbage each year in the US – each item in the trash is not only wasted food, but also wasted water.

So, next time you go to throw out that half eater burger – stop and think about the vast amounts of water used to produce it and try and remember to always eat, wash and consume responsibly.