Put Your Foot Down: The Water Footprint Guide In Honour Of UN World Water Day On Sunday (March 22)

Flushing toilets and washing dishes sucks up 329 litres of water per household per day in Canada, but manufacturing and growing the stuff we buy is using even more. Where are you springing a leak?



This year’s UN water day theme is how H2O is at the core of sustainable development. Access to water – or lack of it – determines our level of poverty, health, economic growth and industry. Virtually every product requires water to manufacture it. A sheet of paper uses 10 litres of water. Manufacturing just 500 grams of plastic sucks up 91 litres. But making a car takes enough water to fill a swimming pool, according to the UN. And gassing up sops up even more: alberta’s oil sands operators alone sucked up over 164 million cubic metres of freshwater in 2014 (mostly from the athabasca river), and that doesn’t even include the H2O involved in refining crude into gasoline. hop on the bus or a bike to drive down your water retention. 




Forget long showers – enjoying a piece of steak at dinner may be one of the most water-intensive things you can do in a day. Yes, even local, organic beef has a bloated water footprint as well as a weighty carbon footprint. Sorry. The UN warns that with growing wealth and demand for meat in places like China and India, “current growth rates of agricultural demands on the world’s freshwater resources are unsustainable.” Opting for beans, lentils and even tofu (preferably the organic, non-GMO kind) will help keep your water (and carbon) waistline in check.




Spring is in the air, and so is the urge to freshen up your wardrobe with a shopping spree. Keep in mind that textile manufacturing consumes lakes’ worth of water. Cotton, organic or not, is a seriously water-intensive crop to grow. And that’s just the farm side of the environmental equation. Dying that fabric pollutes even more water, particularly in places like China, where Greenpeace has catalogued massive hazardous water discharges around textile plants. Sidestep the whole mess and join Canada’s $30-billion second-hand economy whenever possible.




Jesus might have argued that man can’t survive on grains alone, but a lot of people do rely on bread to fill the hunger gap. There’s an incredible amount of water imbedded in every morsel of food we eat (45 per cent of the world’s H2O goes to irrigate wheat and rice), and it all gets trashed every time we let it go uneaten. The International Water Institute says all our food wastage means we’re effectively binning 10.5 trillion gallons of water every year in North America alone. That’s enough to meet the water needs of 500 million people. Buy less, buy smart and get crafty with soon-to-go-bad items. Stale bread makes great croutons or tasty tuscan bread salad. 




Here’s something to ponder next time you’re sipping a cup of joe. For every drop of coffee in your cup, you’re importing 1,100 drops of embedded water from developing countries. The H2O footprint above is based on a 125 ml cup, but grande lovers will be sucking back, on average, 560 litres of water out of, say, Brazil or Kenya. Tim’s new extra large? Nearly 800 litres. Some countries, like Ghana, Togo, Panama and Brazil, use more irrigation than others. Shade-grown coffee needs less irrigation than conventional beans. Either way, definitely makes you reconsider tossing that cup of cold coffee on your desk. FYI, the water footprint of coffee is actually four times that of tea, if you’re up for a switch. 

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