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Water Foot-Print: How much Water does it take?

  • 1We’ve all heard the environmentalists asking us to consume lesser, and ignored them. We’ve taken jibes at the colleagues who carpool, made fun of the person who uses the flip side of a print out. All of us have at some point, been ignorant, ironically enough, knowingly ignorant. The reason that the message of sustainability hasn’t reached, and absorbed is, probably because the green crusaders have failed to establish that going green isn’t something ‘extra’ that we need to do. Take the internet for example. It is filled with endless articles on how to go green, but they’re always pitched as an extra something to do. Only when people realize the impact they’re creating via the choices they make, will they realize the need for sustainable development. The first step in this direction is defeating ignorance. With this aim, TakePart, the digital division of American organization Participant Media, which was founded in 2008, drew up a list of common items and products, and the amount of water that goes into making a unit of them. On similar lines, Imagine All The Water, a site created by the European Commission, will help in calculating the water footprint of different objects. The water footprint of a product is the total volume of freshwater used to produce the product, summed over the various steps of the production chain. The water footprint of a product refers not only to the total volume of water used; it also refers to where and when the water is used (Source: Water Footprint Network (WFN) Glossary). The following list borrows from these two sources and lists the water footprint of various products we consume without thinking twice. Some of the figures are actually really shocking.


    ProductWater Foot-Print
    A Pair of Blue Jeans10800 litres of water
    A pair of Shoes8,547 litres of water
    A Pound of Pork7000 litres of water
    A Laptop5300 litres of water
    A Cotton T-Shirt2700 litres of water
    Rice2,497 litres of water
    A Hamburger2400 litres of water
    A Pound of Beef2200 litres of water
    A Pound of Chicken1800 litres of water
    Chocolate1,720 litres of water
    An Egg200 litres of water
    A Pint of Beer170 litres of water
    Cheese152 litres of water
    A Cup of Coffee140 litres of water
    An Apple82 litres of water
    A Gallon of Gasoline (Petrol)50 litres of water
    Loaf of Bread48 litres of water
    A 60-Watt Lightbulb19 litres of water /hour
    A Sheet of paper13 litres of water


    What do those numbers imply? Well, to put things in perspective, making a single cotton T-shirt is the equivalent of flushing a toilet 250 times. Still confused? Well, to put it differently, the amount of water used in making one cotton T-shirt is equal to the amount of water one person drinks in 3 years. Making some chocolate? That’s hosing your lawn for 9 straight hours. A loaf of bread might seem insignificant in front of these figures, but, making even something that small requires crying non-stop for 84 days straight. As mentioned earlier, this figure is the sum total of all the water consumed per unit of production of that material. Hence, if one observes closely, all these numbers do make sense. For instance, for something like an apple, there are only a limited number steps that require water most of which fall in the part, when it is grown. Therefore, the water footprint of an apple is approximately 82 litres of water. But, for something like a Hamburger, raising cattle requires water, using wheat for the bun needs water, vegetables need water and so on, it’s a multi-step process that requires massive quantities of water at almost every step. Consequently, the water footprint of a hamburger stands at 2400 hundred litres of water. And mind you, this is portable drinking water we’re talking about here, i.e. water which is fit for human consumption.

    The water footprint calculates only the amount of water used in production. However, a lot of these objects consume water even in the consumption part of their life cycle. Let’s go back to the cotton T-shirt. One load of washing uses 150 litres of water and five times more energy to dry it. But what is the solution here? Do we stop washing our clothes? Obviously, NO. One needs to identify the steps where water, and even energy, is not used efficiently. For instance, do not use the in-build dryer in the machine for drying the t-shirt, but hang out the t-shirt to dry in the air, and save 1/3rd the energy in the process.


    The problem lies in the notion that the society believes that there is enough portable and consumable water to last for eternity. The truth is far from this. Our current water consumption patterns indicate that we our-self, in this very generation, will face acute water scarcity, let alone the generations to come. Let us go back to the high school fact that we’re taught, and understand that 97% of the planets water is salty, thus unfit for consumption. Of the remaining 3%, 2% is present in the form of ice and glaciers, thus leaving only 1% for consumption. Furthermore, 70% of this 1% is used in providing food to humans. And we’re wasting that away in such an unwise manner? There is an urgent need to redefine the ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ standards of lifestyle that we follow today, and come up with alternatives to ensure that, not only, water, but every energy source is abundantly present for us, and our future generations as well. Our generation faces a difficult challenge of sustaining development and nature simultaneously, a challenge previously unheard of, for nature and technology were not meant to be in conflict. It is the innate nature of human, which has made him, his own worst enemy. However, like every drop in the ocean counts, every action, step and measure you take today will translate into a better tomorrow, for sure.




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