How Shopping at Thrift Stores Saves Water – YWF’s Water-Saving Tips of the Week

jeans better

Infographic from Your Water Footprint

History in Your Jeans

One way or another your jeans came from the Indus Valley in Pakistan and northeast India. The Indus is a huge valley and river system that drains part of the Himalayan Mountains and is the birthplace of cotton. River and groundwater are used to irrigate rows of cotton plants.

The jeans you’re wearing contain about 800 grams (28 ounces) of cotton, and it took a whopping  15,000 liters (3,960 gallons) of water to grow that much cotton in this dry part of the world. Most of the water evaporated or was used by the cotton plants, and some ended up as wastewater or gray water. That raw cotton was shipped to an urban center or to another country such as Bangladesh, the biggest exporter of textiles. In the factory the raw cotton is washed, dyed and then washed again.

If you think about it, putting on our clothing is like wearing some of the water, soil and sun of faraway places such as the Indus Valley in Pakistan, and the labor of the hard-working hands in the cotton mills of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

How to save thousands of litres (gallons) of water

  • Shop at Thrift Stores  -save  2,900 liters (766 gallons) by just buying a previously-loved T-shirt!
  • Shop Organic – cotton grown without the use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers, and thus it has a smaller water footprint because it produces little water pollution.
  • Buy Local – U.S. cotton has a water footprint of 8,100 liters (2,140 gallons) per kilogram, much less than other countries

Your Water Footprint

Winner, Best Science Book in Canada; First Place NYC Green Book Festival

We don’t realize our societies run on water not oil. There is no electricity or gasoline without water. Nothing can be manufactured without water.  The critically-acclaimed book Your Water Footprint (YWF), uses info graphics to reveal the enormous quantities of water that are used to make the clothes we wear, the electronic devices we use and the food we eat.

On average our daily water footprint amounts to 8,000 litres (2100 gal). This is the net amount, water that can’t be reused.

Water-wise choices is all about smart substitutions and changes in habits

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Product

 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics, only $19.95 Paperback   Order today

 (Now available on Kindle)

World Water Day: The cost of cotton exports in water-challenged India

Women and children gather water from pumps in India

 More than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water. Severe water scarcity in India is exacerbated by the cotton industry. Concerns are high, but are businesses, consumers and government doing enough?

Virtual water

Cotton is by no means India’s largest export commodity – petroleum products followed by gems and jewellery follow closely behind. All of these exports require water to produce, and the quantities needed are staggering. Not only does it take water to grow anything, it also takes water to make anything: cars, furniture, books, electronics, buildings, jewellery, toys and even electricity. This water that goes largely unseen is called virtual water.

What’s easy to forget is that virtual water is as real as the water you drink. Producing 1kg of cotton in India consumes 22,500 litres of water, on average, according to research done by the Water Footprint Network. In other words, this 22,500 litres of water cannot be used for anything else because it has either evaporated or is too contaminated for reuse.

By exporting more than 7.5m bales of cotton in 2013, India also exported about 38bn cubic metres of virtual water. Those 38bn cubic metres consumed in production of all that cotton weren’t used for anything else. Yet, this amount of water would more than meet the daily needs of 85% of India’s vast population for a year.

Doing things differently

Cotton doesn’t usually consume this much water. The global average water footprint for 1kg of cotton is 10,000 litres. Even with irrigation, US cotton uses just 8,000 litres per kg. The far higher water footprint for India’s cotton is due to inefficient water use and high rates of water pollution — about 50% of all pesticides used (pdf) in the country are in cotton production.

Most of India’s cotton is grown in drier regions and the government subsidises the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.

Recent reports show that India’s water consumption is far too high. In 54% of the country 40 to 80% of annually available surface water is used. To be sustainable, consumption should be no more than 20% in humid zones and 5% in dry areas, to maintain the ecological function of rivers and wetlands, experts say (pdf).

India’s extensive groundwater resources are also rapidly being depleted, with 58% of wells in the drier north-west India experiencing declining water levels. By 2030 demand will outstrip supply by 50%, according to the World Resources Institute.

“India’s water problems are well-known in the country and pollution is everywhere. Disagreement lies in the solutions,” says Arjen Hoekstra, professor in water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

The new Indian government’s solution to the spectre of growing severe water scarcity is the $168bn (£113bn) National River Linking Project, which will link 30 rivers with 15,000km of canals. This will transfer 137bn cubic metres of water annually from wetter regions to drier ones. However, the country exports far more water than that, in the form of virtual water, in cotton, sugar, cereals, motor vehicles and its many other exports.

Faltering forward

All of these exports could be produced using far less water, says Hoekstra, who pioneered the water footprint concept. “It’s not just improving water efficiency that could dramatically reduce India’s water consumption, it’s growing and producing things in the right place,” he said.

Most of India’s water-rich crops such as cereals and cotton are grown in the dry states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, which have very high evaporation rates, unlike wet states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. This perverse situation greatly exacerbates India’s water problems and is largely the result of government policies, Hoekstra’s 2009 study (pdf) states.

“There’s a lot of concern about water scarcity, but little interest in changing consumption patterns,” Hoekstra said.

That said, there is growing interest in the Better Cotton Initiative, an industry-led effort using standards to reduce cotton’s water footprint. Organic cotton production also has a lower net water use because it uses no chemicals. Encouragingly, India currently produces two-thirds of the world’s organic cotton. However, this is just 2% of the country’s cotton acreage.

Rather than matching production of goods to the sustainable use of existing water resources, India, like governments around the world, hopes to use engineering to increase the amount of water, said Hoekstra. Instead, India could grow cotton in less arid regions with more efficient irrigation and fewer pesticides to greatly reduce the crop’s impact on water resources.

Stephen Leahy is an international award winning journalist and author of Your Water Footprint, winner of the best science book for 2014.

First published at The Guardian Friday 20 March 2015 . 

 

Book Award-winning Environmental Journalist and Author

MUSE talk passport

Stephen will be doing more talks in 2016 about about his prize-winning book Your Water FootprintThe Shocking Facts Behind Our Thirst for Earth’s Most Precious Resource (Best Science Book in Canada).  

Reviewers have called Your Water Footprint: “brilliant and shocking” and “exceptionally lucid”

Stephen is also an expert on the United Nations climate talks and climate science. He is a winner of the prestigious Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for his Climate Change and Environment Reporting.

As a journalist he has written over 2000 articles on  science and environmental topics around the world for National Geographic, the Guardian, New Scientist, IPS, and many more.

Stephen’s 8-minute talk for Walrus TV:  “We don’t realize our entire society runs on water. It doesn’t run on oil”

 To inquire about Stephen speaking at your event please complete the contact form below.

Book Now for 2016!

Selected 2015 Appearances

Moscow, Idaho/Pullman, Washington
2015 Palouse Basin Water Summit – Keynote Speaker

Mailbu, California and Los Angles Area
MUSE talks

Victoria, B.C. Walrus Talks Water

 Toronto  Ribbon at the Lower Don Festival celebrating the PAN AM Games 

Halifax, Nova Scotia Walrus Talks Water

CONTACT:

Please fill out the form below – it helps reduce spam. Yes, this really works and I will reply — Stephen.

Oil Steals the Headlines but Peak Water is Here

The water that goes into producing the things we eat, wear and use every day is the biggest risk to humanity

“Our entire society runs on water. It doesn’t run on oil”

THE VIRTUAL WORLD OF WATER

A 9 minute talk about the ‘rhino in the room’ of water scarcity and developing “water vision” to see the hidden world of water that’s all around us.

Click here: Stephen Leahy – THE VIRTUAL WORLD OF WATER
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Daily Life Takes HOW Much Water?

Posted by Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic in Water Currents on April 9, 2015

YWF graphic -pizza

Did you know it takes 240 gallons of water to make a cell phone? Or 52 gallons to make an egg?

The concept of such “hidden water” may seem unfamiliar to some, but it’s an important part of our impact on the planet, argues author Stephen Leahy in the recent book Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products.

Leahy, who has written for National Geographic, spoke with Water Currents about how water is required for almost everything we do, and how we can reduce that impact.

What inspired you to write a book on hidden water?

When I was in Australia doing a piece on climate change and invasive species for National Geographic I took an extra week of vacation and hung out with some Aborigines in a remote part of Queensland. To get water I had to walk 200 yards to a stream. It was heavy to haul the water and when it got dark it felt risky because they have nasty snakes and spiders there. That made me appreciate water more.

Then I went to a sacred waterfall, where shamans are initiated. In one of the final stages a candidate grabs the biggest rock they can lift and jumps into the pool, where they lay down until they drown. If the spirit finds them worthy they are brought back alive and become an official shaman. It had been over 20 years since someone managed that, but hearing about it made me realize that these folks take water really seriously.

And then when I got home from that trip I saw an email from the publisher, Firefly, asking if I wanted to write a book about hidden water. I thought it sounded like a really interesting approach to an important subject.

What aspect of hidden water most surprised you?

I was surprised by just how much water it takes to make everything. We don’t really have any material things without water, from food to housing, furniture, electricity, transportation, and so much more.

I tried hard to find something that doesn’t need any water and I couldn’t, which showed how dependent we are on it. And yet we pay little attention to it. We have a lot of stubstites for oil, but we don’t have any water substitutes.

In your book you note that it takes eight bathtubs of water for a typical breakfast. So what should people do if they want to reduce that?

The easiest way to reduce the amount of water you consume is to cut back on meat, since raising meat is really water intensive. Beyond that, beef is much more water intensive than chicken, so you can substitute one for the other.

Next, if you can buy local food it’s easier to find out about how it was produced, including if the water used was managed sustainably. That’s important because it’s not just the amount of water that’s important, it’s also how it is managed. For example, is excess water returned to the local system?

Farming many water-intensive foods in a desert or semi-desert is not sustainable. California, for example, has a huge water deficit.

It’s also true that about 40% of all food in North America is wasted, which means a huge amount of water is wasted. So reducing food waste can really reduce the amount of water you are using, way more than a low-flow shower head, which is still important.

Meat-based diet VS VegetarianWhat else can people do to save water?

A lot of it is going back to the basics on reducing and reusing stuff. Reduce the number of times you swap our your cell phone for the latest model and you’ll save 240 gallons of water. Find a home for your phone if you really have to have a new one instead of tossing it in the landfill. Consumption of material goods means consumption of water.

Flat screen TVs are also very water intensive, requiring tens of thousands of gallons for each one. So ask yourself if you really need it. Use thrift stores to get your clothes, which are fortunately cool again.

shower

In your book you write that “peak water” is already here and yet few people know it. Can you explain what that means?

The amount of freshwater that’s available is limited, it’s a tiny fraction of all the water there is on the planet. But our demand is soaring. We’re growing in numbers and in our consumption of things, and each and everything requires water, and lots of it.

The Ogallala Aquifer [in the Great Plains] is declining about nine feet a year and within 20 years or so it’s going to be empty. It’s the same problem in California. Three in five people in the world will be experiencing water scarcity by 2025. At Davos world leaders recently said that the biggest challenge humanity faces in the next 10 years is water scarcity.

We’ve covered hidden water at National Geographic before (and in our water footprint calculator) and people often tell us they struggle to understand the concept. They think of water as what comes out of their tap. Do you think it’s a hard message to get across?

It’s a hard message for adults but apparently not so hard for kids, who seem to grasp it right away. Our new book has a lot of infographics that try to break it down to help people understand it. We try to show, for example, that a car is like a giant bag of water, with another bag of water on top of that for fuel. Clothes are bags of water, so are books.

There also seems to be a widening gap between many people around the world who don’t have clean water and those of us who seem to be using more and more. How can this gap be bridged?

Ginormous rivers of virtual water are flowing from one country to another. A lot of it isn’t very smart.

For example, Egypt is a big exporter of oranges, mostly to Europe. But it’s a desert country. It takes roughly 20 gallons of water for each orange, but at the same time they don’t have enough water to grow the food they need. So they end up importing cheap food from other countries.

Australia is the biggest virtual exporter of water, through mining and agricultural products, but it’s also the driest continent, so that doesn’t make sense.

virtual water trade wfn smlSo what can people do?

Don’t use more water than you have. If you can grow crops that can be rain fed, that don’t require irrigation, that’s great. If it requires adding water drip irrigation is far more efficient than flood irrigation.

Stop and think before you do something if you really need it or if there is another way to get the service. Can you get those jeans at a thrift store? Can you take a train instead of drive [which saves on the amount of water needed for fuels]? Can you get your cell phone used?

“timely, important, and fascinating” — Review of Your Water Footprint

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 3.30.01 PMAnyone living on the West Coast and desert regions of the United States is familiar with the concept of water scarcity. As global warming, food and commodity production, and population increases continue to affect the planet and its resources, water scarcity will continue to be an important and critical issue.

Environmental journalist Leahy has created a guide for understanding just how much water is used in our daily activities and in the manufacturing of the products we consume, while putting into context current facts about the status of water availability. Readers will find the information, which is presented in an ­infographiclike style, easy to understand and to act upon.

While the introduction and conclusion expertly unpack the complex issue of water use, the images and large text in the body of the book seem to be geared toward younger readers. However, this book is unique in its handling of a complex topic and is unlike other texts on the subject. Readers interested in a more traditional study on water might choose David Sedlak’s Water 4.0.

VERDICT The content is timely, important, and fascinating, though the infographic-style depiction of water use might not appeal to some adult readers.—Jaime Corris Hammond, Naugatuck Valley Community Coll. Lib., Waterbury, CT

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

October 2014 Firefly Books, 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics only $19.95Paperback (Also avail in hardcover) Order today

In US:  AmazonPowell’s Books; Barnes&NobleIndiebound

Canada:  Chapters-Indigo Signed copies avail at Blue Heron Books – Stephen’s home town bookstore; In Ottawa visit the legendary Octopus Books

UK:  WH SmithAmazonWaterstones

Australia: Angus & RobertsonBooktopia

New Zealand: Mighty Ape

Sierra Club Radio Asks: What’s the Big Deal About Water Footprints?

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100% Clean Energy, Water Footprints and Recycled Batteries

Starts at 11:55:  Stephen Leahy, author of Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products 

Original link

BOOK REVIEWS

“…a brilliant and shocking exposé on precisely how much water we use…” – Publishers Weekly

“This book is unique in its handling of a complex topic…the content is timely, important, and fascinating” — Library Journal

…exceptionally lucid narration with arresting, full-page info graphics”  — Booklist,  starred review

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

October 2014 Firefly Books, 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics only $19.95 Paperback (Also avail in hardcover)

Our entire way of life is based on water; not oil

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Water, water everywhere, but too much is being exploited

BY PAUL WEINBERG | JANUARY 15, 2015

Oh dear, not another reason to worry about the planet! There’s already climate change, pollution, industrial agricultural practices and water and energy profligacy, to name just a few.

Now, veteran journalist, Green candidate for Parliament and first time author Stephen Leahy, in his recently published book, Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, has come up with a new reason to worry about the planet: the worsening shortages of fresh water that are overexploited for industrial purposes.

“Our entire way of life is based on water; it is not based on oil as government tells us,” says Leahy, who is based in Uxbridge, just east of Toronto.

Leahy is referring specifically to “virtual water,” which involves non-recyclable fresh water that is consumed during the production of food, energy and manufactured goods, but is invisible to the consumer.

It is here that Leahy has concerns with regards to exponential growth. He argues that the tripling of fresh water usage in the past 50 years is not sustainable because this is a finite and irreplaceable resource.canada54

At the same time, he reports, there is insufficient fresh water in the world for human sustenance. Here, the resource is more likely to be recycled and re-used.

Nevertheless, about 1.2 billion people on the Earth live in areas with chronic water scarcity; while another two billion are affected by shortages every year. By 2025, three in five people may be living with water shortages.

To deliver this message, Your Water Footprint relies on a smart combination of graphics and text in its depiction of how virtual water is used in the economy.

It takes, for instance, more than 7,600 litres or 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans; 2,460 litres or 650 gallons for a T-shirt; and 8,000 litres or 2,113 gallons for a single pair of leather shoes.

He estimates that the clothes in his closet are the result of hundreds of thousands of litres of water applied during the production process.

Since many of our clothes in North America are imported, we are literally “sucking” up water from the developing countries in the making of inexpensive garments for the affluent north, his book reports.

cheeseburgerFurthermore, to produce one kilogram of beef, one needs 15,400 litres or 4,068 gallons of water, which is almost 1.5 times the volume of a concrete mixer truck. Animals, explains Leahy “have a much larger water footprint than crops,” in food production.

Also, a single smart phone uses 910 litres or 240 gallons of water in the manufacturing process.

Leahy says that the direct water usage by the average American (showers, toilet, washing, cooking and drinking) is around 378 litres or 100 gallons. In contrast, the virtual water used in what Americans eat, wear and use during the day averages 7,500 litres or 1,980 gallons.

“Humanity faces difficult choices about how best to use the limited amount of water that we have. This has become even more challenging with growing demands on water from a rising population that’s expected to add a billion more people by 2030,” the author says.

This is Leahy’s first book, having spent the past 20 years in daily reporting for a range of news outlets including the New Scientist, Earth Island Journal, the Toronto Star, Sunday Times, The Guardian, Aljazeera English and Vice. Until recently he was the science and environment correspondent for the Rome based non-profit news agency, Inter Press Service.

A veritable globe trotter, he has attended and covered major international scientific conferences, particularly in the area of climate change. His travelling costs have been assisted in part through crowd sourcing efforts online.

In order get his head around the matter of virtual water, Leahy says he had to get on top of related trends in climate, food and energy because all these issues are interrelated.

Human beings — and that includes environmental experts like himself — tend to get stuck in silos of specialized knowledge and lose sense of the bigger picture, he explains. “It is quite a shift to integrate holistically,” says Leahy.

As someone who has from his reporting became quite familiar with the environmental challenges facing the planet, the author still found the research on virtual water a bit of an eye opener. “I knew that [humans] used a lot of water, but I didn’t realize it was that much.”

Leahy says his book “would not have been possible,” without the assistance of the University of Twente in the Netherlands which has its own academic department on water resources and where the data and analysis is freely available for researchers.

Furthermore, he observes, there is less awareness of the water footprint issue in comparison to the better publicized climate change. “Very few governments have come to grips with virtual water,” notes Leahy.

One has to assume Leahy is including Canada’s government here because he has been busy talking about this issue and Your Water Footprint with teachers and students at schools.

Leahy also says he’s caught the research and writing bug and wants to write another book.

Initially, he found the first book hard to write because his journalism career has consisted of jumping from one subject to another all the time.

“Once I got into it and I had to really force myself to get into it, then I enjoyed being able to explore a subject in depth. I really had to think about how to present the information, make it accessible for people,” he notes.

Paul Weinberg is a Hamilton based freelance writer who can be reached at paulweinberg@bell.net 

Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products

by Stephen Leahy (Firefly Books, 2014; $19.95)

Order today

In US:  AmazonPowell’s Books; Barnes&NobleIndiebound

Canada:  Chapters-Indigo Signed copies avail at Blue Heron Books – Stephen’s home town bookstore; In Ottawa visit the legendary Octopus Books

UK:  WH SmithAmazonWaterstones

Australia: Angus & RobertsonBooktopia

New Zealand: Mighty Ape