How to Reduce Water Footprint: Beginners Complete Manual

Irene Aguirre 2021-03-17 7 min

As impossible as it sounds, freshwater is not infinite. It is actually a finite and vulnerable resource. And the key to take care of it is understanding its essential role to sustain life, development and most important in maintaining the environment healthy. So let's dive into how to reduce our water footprint.

Despite the clear acknowledgment of the uses of water and how humanity has managed it, this has had a tremendous impact on the environment and there still are numerous challenges related to water.

Since there are two types of water consumption (direct and virtual) we are aiming for a lifestyle change. So to reduce your water footprint, you'll need to make some adjustments.

To take a closer look at how water works in our day-to-day life, check this article: Water Footprint: How Much Water it Takes to Make Things.

So now that we know how important is water, and how we are in (urgent) need to learn and implement ways to reduce water. The following is a guide for you to change your lifestyle to contribute to saving water (and therefore the world).

How Can you Reduce your Water Footprint? Follow These Guidelines.

Direct use of water: the water we use, the water that we see.

How to Save Water at Home:

  1. Install water-saving toilets. You can find the perfect fit for your household here. Remember that saving water is also saving money so.. Ka-ching!
  2. Apply a water-saving showerhead. Replace your showerhead with a low-flow, water-saving model. Water usage can be reduced by up to 5 gallons a minute! You can find different models of water-saving showerheads to fit your shower design here. If you can’t afford a new shower head or simply are really happy with the one you have, just take shorter showers.
  3. Turning off the water tap during tooth brushing and handwashing can save up to 4 gallons of water a day per person.
  4. Watch out for what you dispose of through the sink and toilet. Pollutants such as chemicals, paint, and medicines can make harder the process of purifying water.
  5. Use less water when you water your plants. Make sure you utilize rainwater. Place a bucket on your backyard or balcony and use it for your plants on a sunny day.

woman watering
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Union Makes Force:

This all might sound super easy and unimportant. And probably you already do a few of the things that are on the list. But the reality is that if we all adopt these little changes in how we use water, we would be saving millions of gallons of water per year.

As we all know, everything is water and everything takes water to make. So lets talk about how can we reduce our virtual water consumption.

We already tacked a few key actions to reduce our direct water consumption. On the other side, virtual consumption of water is generally waaaaayyy larger than the direct one.

But being completely honest with you, domestic activities constitute less than de 4%of our daily water consumption. Leaving the 92% left falling in the “invisible” spectrum of water consumption.

There are two categories in the invisible spectrum that take most of the remaining 92% of water usage. Those are the industrial production of household items (cotton and paper) and the production of food.

Let’s talk About Food and What can We do to Save Some Water.

First things first: information. We need to figure out what is the water footprint of the food we are buying. With this, I don’t mean you have to calculate the impact of every fry you eat. But having a broader notion of how much energy(water) took to put that delicious crispy fry on your mouth. This will help you understand if the food you are consuming is more likely to be at the better or worse end of the water usage scale. Having this in mind is going to allow us to make better choices to save water.

Is important for that just to pause a moment before purchasing. If it’s an ultra-processed food, then it is going to have a larger water footprint than a “natural” produce. This doesn’t mean fruits and veggies have no water foodprint, but we’ll see about that later.

What We Eat Can Save Water

cuted vegetables
Photo by @suresh_designer from Unsplash

So, here are 6 actions you can take to reduce your water footprint regarding food.

  • Eat less meat. The water footprint of 200 kg of beef that is produced from one single cow is the sum of water used and polluted to produce the food it’s eating, the water it’s drinking, the water it takes to keep it clean and alive, and then the water that produces the energy to transform a live animal into 200 kg of boneless beef. An average vegetarian or even pescatarian diet uses up to 55% less water than a meat-eating diet. We know that to stop eating meat is difficult and you might find it unappealing, but by simply cutting back on meat consumption you are making a huge difference. You can introduce a meatless Monday and even just reduce your meat portions. As we always say, the union makes force.
  • Eat better meat. If vegetarianism is not for you, or if you are really craving a nice stake, make sure to get it from a more conscious origin. This means just to take into consideration how the animal was raised. There are mostly two ways animals are raised: the conventional way which is an industrial setting that feeds irrigated corn to the animals and, naturally, it has a higher impact on water usage; and there is pasture-raised which mostly relies on rainfall. You can find pasture-raised meats from farm to kitchen here.
  • Choose organic. By now you should know that fertilizers increase crop yields so is the most common way of producing fruits and veggies. But organic soils can maintain a structure that enables better water infiltration and retention it requires less irrigation. So in consequence everything that comes from an organic farm will have a smaller water footprint. You can find organic goods in most grocery stores. But hey! Who doesn’t like a weekend stroll to the local farmer's market to get some veggies? This way you will be eating organic and local.
  • More whole foods, less processed foods. Of course, fruits and veggies need water to grow. But the amount needed is in no way near the amount you need to process food. Heavily process food uses additional water for cleaning the machinery and pre-cooking ingredients. Not to mentions the packaging, fuel for delivery, and energy to refrigerate them. So more salads.
  • Watch your food waste. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in the US, an average person wastes 238 pounds of food per year. So food waste is basically wasting tons of water. All that water used to make the food you did not eat goes to waste. Luckily for you, we have a post on how to reduce your food waste. Check it out.
  • Eat local. Buying food grown close to home reduces the amount of water used in transport, conservation and it stops water to be “imported” where is most needed. You can find local farmers on this page.

These are only a few things you can do to reduce your water footprint on food. But as we know water is in everything so it takes a lifestyle change to fix the problem.

How We Move Helps to Reduce our Water Footprint?:

urban bike

Washing a car uses about 150 gallons of water, so by washing less frequently you can cut back your water use. Or you can send it a car wash where they actually recycle the water.

A gallon of gasoline takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce. Combine your errands, carpool to work, or take public transportation to reduce both your energy and water use. Or just ride a bike, it’s good for the environment and your legs.

How We Dress Contains Water. How Can We Reduce it?

picking cloth

It takes about 100 gallons of water to grow and process a single pound of cotton. The average American goes through about 35 pounds of new cotton material each year. One pair of jeans requires plenty of water for its production, which means that you should limit the purchasing and find ones that are recycled before you make a purchase.

One of the best ways to save water is to buy recycled goods and to recycle your stuff when you’re done with it. Or, stick to buying only what you really need. You can find your local goodwill here.

And How We Treat Water:

glass of water

So it all comes down to the three R system.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

  • Reduce: we can reduce our overall water consumption. Small changes are actually big. Keep an eye on your daily water-using activities like watering the lawn, showering, and washing the dishes.
  • Reuse: we can reuse water in our home as much as we can. We can capture rainwater and used it to water our lawn.
  • Recycle: we can get a water purifier so we can recycle our wastewater.

Hopefully, we can all work together to save water. Remember you don’t have to be perfect, by doing only one of the things we recommend you are making a change.

I'll tell you what, pick one of the things on any of the sections (household, diet, transportation, or clothing) and just try to apply it to your lifestyle. My priority will be buying local. What will be yours?

Irene Aguirre

Copywriter, nature lover and feminist activist

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