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Conserving water: Do you know the water footprint of your food?

Conserving water: Do you know the water footprint of your food?

Vegetarian burger

When we think of conserving water, thoughts turn immediately to what we can do around the house. Taking shorter showers, using a filled plastic bottle to reduce flush amounts in toilets, installing a water butt to catch rainwater or washing the car with a watering can are a great start!

Yet did you know that compared to the amount of water that goes into producing the food we eat, the amount of water used in households is small potatoes? In other words, the sheer volume of ‘virtual water’ that goes into food production is mind-boggling.

Conserving water: The water footprint of a cheese sandwich

Here’s an example for you. Let’s say you decide to have a fairly ordinary cheese sandwich for lunch…

  1. Two slices of bread. around 1300 litres of water are used in the production of one kilo of wheat flour. If it takes 450g of flour to make a standard loaf, you’re looking at almost 80 litres of water for your two slices. 
  2. A few slices of cheese. An estimated 5000 litres of water are used in the production of a kilo of cheese, start to finish. Put just 50g into your sarnie and that ups your lunch’s water footprint by 250 litres of water.
  3. A bag of crisps. Nothing like a few ready salted crisps to go in and around your sandwich. Potato production uses a similar volume of water to wheat, so that’s another 40 litres of water for a small bag of crisps.
  4. A glass of milk. A water footprint of 1000 litres per litre. Quench your thirst with a cold glass and you finish off the meal with another 250 litres of water.

Grand total

620 litres of ‘virtual water’ went into the making of your cheese sandwich lunch. That’s the equivalent of almost eight baths!

So should we just stop eating?

Obviously we’re not suggesting starvation as a method for cutting water footprints. However it does flag up the fact that the foods we choose have an environmental impact beyond whether they’re organically produced or fairly traded.

What happens if we swap cheese for beef? The water footprint of the meal rises to a staggering 1120 litres of ‘virtual water’. That’s another six baths of water on top of the eight we already had.

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Factoring in feed and water, it can take around 16,000 litres of water (that’s 200 baths-worth!) to produce a single kilo of beef. The average British person eats about 84 kilos of meat a year – twice the international average. It’s clear that by eating less meat, you’ll be conserving water and potentially living a healthier life.

Try a Meat Free Monday

By choosing meat free food just one day a week, you’ll be making an immediate positive impact on your water footprint!

Take a look at the tasty bean burgers in the image at the top of this article – water footprint around 160 litres per 150g burger. The water footprint of a 150g beef burger? 2400 litres.  

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