Do you know how many litres of water you use a day?
When I was asked this for the first time, I immediately thought: “Well, I have at least five cups of tea a day, drink some water, brush teeth, shower, flush the toilet, wash the dishes etc. Hmmm, probably around 80 litres?”
No. My guess was way off. In the UK, every person uses around 150 litres of water a day and this number has been increasing every year by 1% since 1930, according to Waterwise. Although I was aware of the activities that used water, I didn’t realise how much water IS used. If you take a 5 min shower for example, this uses 45 litres of water. If you think about it, this is like tipping more than 20 big bottles of water over your head!
I then started to wonder about the water that’s used in other daily activities and the products that I use and consume. This is known as embodied water or virtual water. If you take this into account, you actually consume around 3,400 litres of water per day.
Have I got brews for you…
I’m typing this post as I’m drinking my 4th cup of tea of the day. But how much water goes into making this cup of tea?
Around 40 litres of water is needed to make a smashing cup of tea. Approximately 30 litres of water is needed for the tea itself and 10 litres for a dash of milk (and for the sugar drinkers it would be another 6 litres per teaspoon of sugar).
It all adds up when you think about how much water is used in each stage of the production, use and disposal of a product. In this instance, water is needed:
- to grow the tea leaves and food for the dairy cows;
- in the manufacturing process including their packaging;
- to generate the energy to boil the kettle;
- to brew the tea in your cup;
- to clean the cup; and
- even to flush the toilet an hour later!
You can have even more fun thinking about how much water is needed to make the kettle or the cup you brew your tea in.
Why is this important?
Our water supplies are under increasing threat from climate change, rapid population growth and environmental pressures. Freshwater is a scarce resource and its availability is becoming more and more limited. However, demand for water is increasing and is currently unsustainable.
We will need to develop new sources (production) of water. There are several ways we can boost our water supplies. For instance, recycled water is becoming an increasingly important source and we could transfer water from areas with plentiful supplies, storing water in reservoirs or desalination. However, managing demand for water is absolutely key and the foundation of more sustainable water use.
Most of us don’t think about our water supply and use – we just turn on the tap and clean, fresh water pours out. This is what makes it easy to take water for granted and use as much as we can and want. That’s why it’s important to think about where our water comes from, how much water we consume daily, understand the challenges that threaten our water supply and consider the amount of water used to create the products we use. We’ve all heard about carbon footprint, but what about your water footprint?
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
For individuals, I agree that water footprinting every single product you use or consume isn’t easy, but there are good reasons to do so. Awareness is the first step in becoming more sustainable with water use and this may even lead to you comparing different products and choosing the one with least impact on water. Water efficiency is also something everyone should do – it’s about reducing the amount of water you waste on a daily basis (becoming more sustainable with your water use), not restricting what you use. You can do this by making small behavioural changes. Simple things will help cut down on wasting water, for instance:
- Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth;
- Having a water efficient shower head and a tap aerator;
- Always having a full load in the washing machine or dishwasher; and
- Filling up a glass bottle with tap water and keeping it in the fridge so the tap doesn’t need to be run for ages to cool it down.
Both ourselves, larger communities, businesses and Governments need to focus on understanding and reducing water consumption. Currently, companies consume and waste a huge amount of water. However, when they do understand how much water is consumed by their products and the impact this can have, they can hopefully focus their efforts and make improvements. Businesses need to reduce their consumption of water while fully understanding the impact of water across each stage of their operations.
Something to think about when you’re next having a cup of tea…