8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption

Average water footprint of a regular sized bottle of cola
Average water footprint of a regular sized bottle of cola

By Anastasia Pantsios for EcoWatch

Water is a finite resource. And its preciousness has been driven home by water wars in California, where record drought has agricultural users, fracking interests and home consumers vying for the same supply; in the southwest where the water levels in the rivers, aquifers and reservoirs that provide waters to major communities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are dropping; and in the battles being fought over withdrawing water from the Great Lakes. Reducing our water footprint is essential to conserving this life-giving substance.

We actually have two water footprints: direct and indirect. Many of us are familiar with direct water-use footprint, and mat already be taking steps to reduce it: taking shorter showers, not letting the water run while we’re brushing our teeth, doing fewer loads of laundry, flushing the toilet less often or even installing low-flush toilets.

We probably don’t think of our indirect water footprint often if at all, which involved the water used to make the products and services we use. Author Stephen Leahy, an Ontario-based environmental journalist, wrote about some of them in his book Your Water Footprint published earlier this year.

“A ‘water footprint’ is the amount of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume, including growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping,” he says. “From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear to the books we read and the music we listen to, all of it costs more than what we pay at the checkout.”

Here are some things you can do to reduce your indirect water footprint.

1. Leahy reveals that 95 percent of our water footprint is hidden in our meals. While a pound of lettuce costs about 15 gallons of freshwater and a slice of bread only 10 gallons, chocolate can cost an astronomical 2,847 gallons a pound and beef can run us 2,500 gallons. Given that raising livestock is particularly water-intensive, eating vegetarian is one good way to reduce your water footprint. Better yet, go vegan: all animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter and milk take a lot of water to produce. Chicken has a much lower water footprint than beef though, so even giving up red meat can help.

arjen quote2. Think about what you drink. Tell people you’re passing on the soft drink and going for a beer because its water footprint is lower. And it is. A beer takes about 20 gallons of water to create, while soft drinks can be close to 50, depending on packaging and what sugars are used. And drink tea instead of coffee. Coffee consumes about 37 gallons of water in the production process, tea takes only 9 gallons.

3. The clothes we wear also consume vast amounts of freshwater to produce with cotton T-shirts and denim jeans exceptionally high in water use. One pound of cotton requires 700 gallons of water. Shop secondhand, thrift and vintage stores, or buy well-made clothes intended to last.

4. Actually, buying to last is a good way to reduce water consumption in general. Virtually all manufactured products consume a lot of water in the process. To manufacture a smartphone requires 240 gallons of water. Do you really need to trade in your phone every time a new model comes out?

5. Take public transportation (or better yet walk.) Not only do cars consume tens of thousands of gallons of water during manufacturing, but the gas required to run them uses more than a gallon of water for each gallon of gas.

6. Don’t install or use a garbage disposal. It’s water intensive. Compost instead.

7. Cut your plastic use! Making one pound of plastic requires 24 gallons of water. Use less and recycle what you can. Look for items with less packaging.

8. If you have a garden, install rain barrels to conserve water instead using that hose. Rain barrels hook up to your downspouts and collect rain water to reuse. You can make one from a 55-gallon drums (more recycling) and a easy-to-find little hardware. There’s a big movement among artists to paint rain barrels so that you can also have a distinctive and colorful work of art outside your house.

“The saying that ‘nothing is free’ applies more to water than anything else we consume, considering just three percent of the world’s water is drinkable and that we are using more of it than ever before,” says Leahy. “Many experts predict dire water shortages if we continue on our current path. Factor in climate change, population growth and pollution and we have an unsustainable situation.”

There’s lots more information about your water footprint and what you can do to reduce it at WaterFootprint.org. They even have a calculator so you can figure out your own water footprint.

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

only  $19.95  large format paperback 

October 2014 Firefly Books, 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics (Also 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

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.53.14 PM

Award-winning environmental journalist launches book that will change the way you drink

by Lisha Van Nieuwenhove

Did you know that the average North American lifestyle is kept afloat by about 7,600 litres of water a day? We’re not talking trying to cram in more than the eight glasses recommended for our health – we’re talking about how much water it takes to propel our lives.

A new book written by Uxbridge resident and award-winning environmental journalist Stephen Leahy gives shocking insight into the “water footprint” that we use each day. We’re all familiar with the term “carbon footprint”, and this new term can be jarring when first learned, as it’s not likely something you’ve heard about before.

Open up Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products and you’ll quickly learn that the world’s most abundant resource is also the world’s most abused.

“Our supply of water is limited,” explains Stephen. “It doesn’t go away. We’re using the same water the dinosaurs drank. The problem is, we’re creating a cycle of demand that our world cannot keep up with. It’s simply not sustainable. We undervalue water.”

The book was originally commissioned by Firefly Books after a publisher there read “A Cup of Coffee with Stephen Leahy” in The Cosmos about two years ago. Your Water Footprint is easy to read, with lots of what Stephen calls “info graphics”. There is lots of reading to be done, but each picture does an excellent job of telling a story, and although the facts each chapter pours out (pun semi-intended) can be overwhelming, they are captivating and eye-opening. Take a pair of jeans, for example. One pair of jeans takes 7,600 litres of water to make. Much of the cotton from which jeans are made grows in India. Water is needed to irrigate the cotton crops, and it comes from nearby rivers. Once the raw cotton is harvested, it must be washed. More water use. It is then shipped to Bangladesh – the fuel used in the vehicle(s) that transport it requires water, as do the vehicles themselves. The cotton is processed further, being spun and dyed (more water in the dye), and the now-contaminated water often lands back in the rivers it came from. Eventually the finished garment gets a couple more washes, and the jeans get packaged up and shipped off to retailers – more fuel, more transport, more water. 7,600 litres doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

“The book doesn’t say that us using water is bad,” says Stephen. “It’s more about helping us all to understand where we’re doing things wrong and how they can be fixed. We need to be conscious of what we purchase, because there’s always a price to pay in water. Remember the three r’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. That helps. Eating vegetarian once in awhile – that helps, because it uses way more water to eat a diet high in beef. Even chicken uses less water.”

Stephen says he learned a great deal writing the book, as he had been more involved in other environmental issues.

“I didn’t know the extent to which water is involved in everything. ALL forms of energy require water. It’s amazing.”

The book is already starting to be used in some schools, in classes as young as grade six.

As a freelancer, Stephen writes mainly for Inter Press Service, a news agency that claims to be the world’s leading provider of news and analysis on sustainable development. Stephen covers topics ranging from climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, development, to native peoples, and his work often takes him all over the world.

He will be at Blue Heron Books this Saturday, November 8, from 1 – 4 p.m., to officially launch Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, as well as answer any questions that readers may have.

Your Water Footprint will definitely change the way you look at every day life – from the food you eat to the way you consume household products.

–Lisha Van Nieuwenhove “The Uxbridge Cosmos” (11/06/2014)

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

Stephen Leahy


International Environmental Journalist

Co-Winner of the United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change ReportingSteve headshot

Stephen has been an independent journalist for over 20 years and has reported on environmental issues from dozens of countries. He has been published in many leading publications around the world including National Geographic, New Scientist, The London Sunday Times, The Guardian, Vice Magazine,  Al Jazeera, Maclean’s Magazine, Earth Island Journal, DeSmog Canada, The Toronto Star, Wired News, China Dialogue, Mo Magazine (Europe), TerraGreen (India), and Common Dreams.

Based near Toronto,  he is also the senior science and environment correspondent for the Rome-headquartered Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), the world’s largest not-for-profit global news agency. IPS articles are published in over 500 newspapers and magazines all over the world reaching an estimated 200 million readers in up to 20 languages. IPS news is also broadcast by over 1000 radio stations, potentially targeting over 150 million listeners.

Stephen also contributes to IPS affiliates in Montevideo, Johannesburg and New Delhi.

Stephen on Walrus TV: “We don’t realize our entire society runs on water. It doesn’t run on oil”

Interview on CTV Halifax morning show

Stephen’s talk: Inside The International Climate Treaty Negotiations 

His journalism also appears on a wide range of news networks including Reuters AlertNet, DeSmog Blog, TerraViva, InfoSud, Rabble.ca, Common Dreams and more.

Prior to journalism, Stephen had a successful career in the private sector. He is currently a Fellow at the International League of Conservation Writers and professional member of the International Federation of JournalistsSociety of Environmental Journalists. A co-winner of the 2012 Prince Albert/United Nations Global Price for Climate Change and Environment Reporting.

Hundred’s of Stephen’s articles are freely available on his main website.  These cover topics ranging from climate change to food production to nano tech.

main website scnshotTo contact Stephen please use the form below: