Though significantly less glamorous than a diamond ring, water is no less precious. As an essential ingredient to all life on Earth, water is the resource with the highest intrinsic value; it is the one resource we really shouldn’t squander. Unfortunately, out of the largest 37 aquifer systems in the world — from which most of our drinking water is extracted — 21 are showing a decrease in total volume. With the global population expected to increase over the coming decades, the global demand for water will also increase. There is, however, more than enough to go around if we forgo certain behaviours that disproportionately waste water.
Eat less animal products
Of all the freshwater consumed by humans, 70% of it is used for agriculture. The majority of this water is, however, used specifically for animal agriculture. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, “most of the water consumed from agriculture is used to irrigate cereals or oleaginous seeds (soy, sunflower, cotton, linseed, etc.), which are, in turn, used as: food and protein integrators in cattle feed; to keep agricultural productivity high in order to feed cattle and to keep their intestines active; to quench their thirst; to clean stables, milking halls; slaughterhouses and so on”.
Given that animal products are not an essential part of a healthy diet, according to the American Dietetic Association, reducing your intake of animal products in the most effective way to reduce your water footprint. For the biggest effect, just make sure you don’t replace them with avocados.
Stop wasting so much food
There are, however, other ways to reduce your water waste when it comes to food. As a society, we throw away one third of all the food that we produce; though that doesn’t mean we waste one third of the water because different foods have different water requirements and shelf lives. Nonetheless, by eradicating food waste, we would be able to save a sizeable chunk of water from being wasted.
Although dumpster diving is often illegal — protecting private interests is, of course, more important than protecting the environment — there are other options to get involved. In Germany, for example, we have access to apps like Too Good To Go, food delivery boxes from etepetete, or community platforms like foodsharing. They allow you to save food in a legal and efficient manner.
Don’t buy fast fashion
According to Kirsty Jenkinson of the World Resources Institute, 22% of of our fresh water is used for industry. This means everything from the manufacture of chemicals, to the production of clothes; it is the latter we can have some control over in our personal lives.
The fashion industry is not only responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, but 20% global wastewater. Not only that, but cotton farming itself is responsible for 24% of worldwide insecticide use, and 11% of pesticide use, despite only using 3% of the world’s farming land.
In this case, while giving up on fashion might save some water, the biggest effect is likely to be a reduction in water based pollution. Polluted waters can significantly affect local environments, and toxic substances can enter the food chain, leading to problems in humans. Some ways of shopping more sustainable include swapping with friends, shopping second hand, or looking for brands with sustainable certifications. This is basically an extra reason not to go to Primark.
Change the way you use at home
The remaining amount of water (8%) is used domestically. While the above suggestions will have a much bigger impact on your water footprint, there’s always room for improvement. You should only use a dishwasher/washing machine with a full load. It’s better to have a shower everyday than a bath. Maybe you can convince your building to install some kind of rainwater collection system? This is a particularly good point for those in Northern Europe.
While there are certainly other ways to reduce your water footprint, these are some of the largest. If we were all to take personal responsibility of our usage, together we could build a social consensus in which it becomes antisocial to waste water. If you need convincing, just look at how one girl’s protest turned into a global movement. At the end of the day, however, it’s important to realise that each of these points has its own distinct impact: it’s much more worthwhile to take on the first three points than it is to spend 5 minutes less in the shower in the morning.
Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.