4 tips for conserving ‘invisible’ water every day

Every day the average American family uses 300 gallons of water for everything from brushing their teeth and washing clothes to running the sprinkler and flushing the toilet, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beyond this, families also use lots of water in ways they don’t see.

Water is needed to grow food and manufacture favorite products. It’s often called virtual or invisible water – the water that’s hidden in the things you eat, products you use and clothes you wear. For example, it takes 700 gallons of water to make one T-shirt and 40,000 gallons to manufacture one car, according to the Value of Water Coalition. Growing a single apple requires 19 gallons of water. In fact, 86 percent of all water used is invisible to most consumers because it’s used to produce food, beverages and products, according to the coalition.

“As consumers, we need to focus on the water we can’t see to make an even bigger impact in helping the environment, saving money and conserving the world’s most precious resource,” says Roman Lis, a principal engineer at MWH Global, an engineering and strategic consulting firm focused on water and natural resources. “The good news is there are simple steps we can take, starting where we live and work. At the same time, more manufacturers are changing their processes and systems to smartly reduce the amount of water they need to make the high-quality products we buy and enjoy.”

How can you take water conservation one step farther in your daily life? MWH, which also helps companies safely assess, reduce and reuse water in their manufacturing processes, offers four tips for reducing your invisible water consumption.

1. Add up your daily habits. Find out how much water – real and invisible – you use each day as a starting point to determine the best steps to consider in reducing your consumption. You can log your daily habits into the Water Footprint Calculator at www.waterfootprint.org. Choose the “extended” water calculator, which tallies the water you use at home and the water that’s in the food you eat and industrial products you buy.

2. Make simple switches. Consider substituting products that use more water with others that have a smaller water footprint. For example, drink more tap or filtered water instead of buying bottled water. Find favorite recipes that replace or use less meat. (It takes 1,230 gallons of water to yield one beef steak.) Buy more clothes with artificial fibers instead of cotton which is made with more water.

3. Use water-efficient appliances. Toilets, dishwashers and washing machines use a significant portion of a household’s visible water consumption.When it’s time to replace a household appliance, do your research. You can find out the amount of water an appliance uses from the manufacturer’s data and compare various products to identify the ones that have the lowest water consumption. Replacing an old toilet, for example, can reduce the toilet’s water consumption by 20 to 60 percent, according to the EPA.

4. Choose more sustainable products and practices. It’s not always easy to know the water footprint of your favorite products since there aren’t any labeling requirements. However, some product labels or websites may note the company’s sustainable practices, including water, for acquiring, producing and distributing goods. Try to select products you trust as being made in more environmentally and water-friendly ways, and ask for more product transparency from businesses. Look for companies that have high sustainability ratings. There are various organizations that rank companies based on sustainability including Forbes magazine.

“Freshwater is a limited resource, and there’s more demand as the world’s population grows and sources of clean, fresh water decrease,” says Lis. “Greater awareness of how and where invisible water is used every day can help more families save water and costs, while ensuring this natural resource is available for generations to come.”


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