TreeHugger recently had the chance to speak with Stephen Leahy, the author of the new book “Your Water Footprint.” The book looks beyond the everyday water uses that we’re most familer with, like showering and cooking, and explores the water that we rely on unknowingly. This is the “virtual water” that grows the food we eat, is used to generate electricity, and produce our electronics.
“It’s an enormous amount of water that we end up consuming every day without realizing it,” said Leahy.
Fresh water is becoming an increasingly rare resource in the face of pollution, global warming and higher demand on existing water resources for manufacturing and agriculture. “Your Water Footprint” argues that part of the solution to these problems is through regulations and policies, and part of the solution lies in all of us becoming a little more water smart. “I think we need to have an attitude shift,” said Leahy. “For thousands of years, humans treated water as something sacred and I think they were quite right about that. We need to go back towards that respect for water.”
The book is full of water-saving tips, and below we’ve shared a few.
1. Drink tea instead of coffee
It may seem like a cup of coffee and a cup of tea contain the same amount of liquid, but growing coffee beans is a much more water-intense process that growing tea leaves. The amount of virtual water needed to produce a cup tea is 9 gallons, while the amount of virtual water in a cup of coffee is 37 gallons.
2. If you’re craving junk food, order a cheese pizza instead of a cheeseburger
© “Your Water Footprint” by Stephen Leahy
According to Leahy, ordering a small cheese pizza instead of a cheeseburger reduces the water footprint of your meal by 301 gallons. Beef requires a lot of water to produce, because of the massive amount of feed that cows consume. On the whole, a plant-based diet has a much smaller water footprint than one that contains meat or other animal products.
3. Put your food scraps in the compost, not the sink’s garbage disposal
In order to work properly, the garbage disposal in your kitchen sink needs a lot of water and some energy too. But it’s not really the best way to get rid of food scraps, because it can put stress on your area’s septic system and requires even more energy to clean that water at the local waste treatment facility. Instead, you’ll save water by composting kitchen scraps.
4. Buy secondhand jeans instead of new ones
Jeans have a very large virtual water footprint, about 2,100 gallons per pair. Most of that water is used for growing the cotton, but water is also used to wash and dye the denim. The next time you need a new pair, check out a vintage shop or second-hand store instead of buying new.
5. Water your garden with rainwater instead of tap water
Use rain barrels to collect water from the downspouts. This way, you won’t be using the treated drinking water that’s in your tap to water your plants. Even if you still have to turn on the sprinklers or hook up the hose sometimes, you’ll still get significant water savings.