Written by WCO intern Elise McDonald
Last month, I wrote about water use in the production of food. But what about the water footprint left behind by the other goods and services that are part of our daily lives? When we think about reducing our water usage, oftentimes we have hard time thinking beyond the faucets in our homes. We also use immense amounts of water in the creation of items such as t-shirts and cars, not to mention that which is consumed indirectly by using other forms of energy, such as gasoline. An individual’s water footprint “includes direct use at home through toilets, taps, and hoses, but also the water embedded in the production of food crops, electronics, paper products, electricity, transportation fuels, and more.” (Quote source: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/water-calculator-methodology/ )
Nearly everything we do, use, or eat consumes water, and in ways many of us never considered. Take clothes for example. A single pair of jeans requires around 2,900 gallons of water, including the water needed for the amount of cotton in the jeans, and the entire manufacturing process . A cotton shirt uses about 700 gallons, and tennis shoes average 1,247 gallons of water per pair. So that means a brand new outfit could be worth around 4,850 gallons of water, not including undergarments and accessories!
Let’s go beyond what we wear. We all have to go places right? For most Americans, ‘going places’ often entails a vehicle that uses gasoline. The manufacturing of the average new car requires 39,090 gallons of water, and it takes one gallon of water to produce ¾ of a gallon of gasoline.
The list of how we indirectly use water goes on and on. Think about the things you use every day. The production of your cell phone, computer, toothbrush, and most other items required water. Something that has become a big part of consumer goods is plastic, and it takes 24 gallons of water to produce just 1lb of it! Although we rely on water to sustain our everyday lives, there are many ways we can greatly cut down on water use.
Some everyday tips to reduce your water footprint:
- Carpool, bike, or walk more often
- Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth or washing dishes, check for and fix leaks, and take shorter showers
- Eat locally grown and produced food! Water is used in the production of fuel, and the farther your food has to be transported, the more fuel it takes.
- Don’t put fats, oils, or grease (F.O.G) down the drain! This stuff hardens in the pipes and creates blockages that lead to sewer spills and take a lot of extra water to flush out. (For more information on F.O.G clogs, follow this link: https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/4046/FOG-Tips-for-Homeowners )
- Buy second-hand clothing! This has become somewhat of a trend in recent years, and for water conservation purposes hopefully it sticks around! The majority of Americans (donate, stop wearing, whatever) items (long before they wear out) When you purchase these goods at thrift or consignment stores, (many of which appear to be fresh off the assembly line), you get a new-to-you outfit without the tremendous water waste – and you also save money!
- RECYCLE! So much of what we use can be recycled, yet many people negligently toss everything into the garbage instead. “In 2008, for example, we threw out 34.48 million tons of paper and 27.93 million tons of plastic — both of which are water-intensive materials that could be re-used and/or recycled” (http://www.gracelinks.org/285/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products).
- Buy used cars! Like clothing, it takes a while to wear out a well-maintained car.
- Borrow from your friends! Sometimes things come up and you suddenly need a tool, a certain outfit, etc. Before running out and buying something, see if you can borrow it from someone else (and return the favor sometime). This will save the water resources used to make the item as well as money!
The bottom line is that we use a tremendous amount of water to fuel our daily lives, and a large chunk of our water consumption is done indirectly through the food we eat and the things we buy. Being more conscious of our water footprint can greatly conserve our water resources, and in many cases save money, too!
Want to get a better idea of how you can use less water? Follow the link to use the National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator and do your part to “Change the Course” of our water consumption! http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/change-the-course/water-footp rint-calculator/