As an employee of the Columbia Water Center as well as a student studying Earth and Environmental Engineering (and focusing specifically on water resources), I consider myself a fairly water conscientious person. I take fast showers, turn off the sink when brushing my teeth, and drink primarily tap water to reduce my water footprint. However, with the recent trend in water footprinting, I was curious to see exactly how much water someone like me, who keeps a fairly close eye on water usage, uses in one day.
I wake up in the morning, and like most Americans, I eat breakfast. That cup of coffee I drink takes 140 liters of water to produce, and the cup of milk and cup of cereal take approximately 250 liters and 450 liters of water respectively. I then take my shower. I consider myself fairly good about showering, but my 5 minute shower (in my college dorm shower, which seems to have a fairly old shower head) uses about 75 liters of water. Take brushing my teeth and washing my face into account and that’s about another 15 liters of water. Already I’ve used 930 liters of water!
I return to my room, and it’s time to get dressed for the day. I do laundry once a week, so that’s about 150 liters of water a week, or about 20 liters a day for my clean clothing. If I want to go even further, a pair of jeans takes about 10,000 liters of water to make, along with 3000 liters for my cotton t-shirt, so I have those water figures also hanging over my head. I grab a water bottle and leave for the day. Throughout the day I probably drink about 2 liters of tap water, so we can add that to my total. Throughout the day, I often get tired, so I grab a diet coke to tie me over. That 20 oz soda takes 234 liters of water to produce! The plastic bottle used to hold the diet coke takes approximately 7 liters of water to produce as well.
So at the end of the day, I get home, and it’s time for dinner. I decide to make pasta – well the 1/3 pound of pasta that’s about a normal serving takes 633 liters of water to produce. And the jar of pasta sauce takes about 200 liters to produce, so that would be about 75 liters of water for this meal. If I choose to have a snack of a small bag of M&Ms for dessert, that takes a whooping 750 liters of water to produce. Say I have to wash dishes afterwards, I probably use another 50 liters of water to wash everything. On an average day, a person using a normal flush toilet uses 75 liters of water a day on flushing alone, plus 10 liters or so washing his or her hands. So thats another 85 liters.
So that’s my basic day. My water footprint for the day is 2,786 liters of water per day, not counting water that could be included in my electricity use, transportation use, or water used to produce my clothing. That is 2,786 kg of water, or about 48 times my body weight. The production water costs of objects are something that we often overlook – we eat food daily without thinking of the countless liters of water that was required to grow or produce it. One hamburger that over 2500 liters to produce!! So many small things add up that we wouldn’t even realize. Below are several sites that contain information I either used or think helpful in calculating one’s own water footprint.
So next time you are ordering that hamburger, that diet coke, or shopping for that new pair of jeans, remember the water that went into producing these goods that we often take for granted. Wise use of water is essential to ensure we have all these goods and more in the future.