The Surprising Water Footprints of 15 Common Things

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You’ve heard all about your carbon footprint, but do you ever think about your water footprint? Everything you touch uses water in the manufacturing process; this hidden water is called “virtual water,” and, says Stephen Leahy in Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, "each of us uses far more virtual water than the 'regular' water we can see, feel and taste." On average, Americans use 100 gallons of regular water everyday, and 1980 gallons of virtual water. "That means the average American’s 'water footprint'—the total amount of direct plus virtual freshwater use—is about 8000 liters (2115 gallons) a day," Leahy writes. "Since 1 liter weighs 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), that's the weight of four cars you have to haul if you get all of that water from a well." That’s pretty sobering, considering that 30 percent of the world’s population lives in areas facing water shortages. Here are the water footprints of 15 common objects and foods.

1. Your morning cup of coffee (8 fluid ounces) requires 37 gallons of virtual water to produce.

2. One cup of black tea using one teabag, on the other hand, needs 9 gallons of virtual water to grow, process, and brew.

3. The water footprint of one disposable diaper is 144 gallons. A reuseable cloth diaper’s footprint is just four gallons. (Though the cotton required for one of these diapers is 198 gallons, the simple fact that it will be reused up to 50 times brings that number down.)

4. Producing two pounds of wet food for your cat or dog requires 3667 gallons of water.

5. It takes 2000 gallons of water to grow the cotton for and manufacture one pair of jeans. (Not included in that number is the water you’ll use to wash your jeans throughout your time owning them.)

6. Producing two pounds of bananas requires 209 gallons of water (84 percent is for growing; the rest is accounted for in washings before sale). It works out to roughly 42 gallons per banana!

7. Manufacturing polyester doesn’t require a lot of water, so a polyester shirt requires 92.5 gallons. A cotton shirt needs 660 gallons.

8. Making 35 ounces of ketchup requires 140 gallons of water.

9. It takes 2074 gallons of water to create the rubber tires on your car.

10. One small margherita pizza needs 333 gallons of virtual water (50 percent of that goes to mozzarella, 44 percent to wheat flour, and 6 percent to the tomato sauce).

11. A 750-milliliter bottle of whisky requires 322 gallons of water.

12. It takes half a gallon of water to produce a single pasta noodle.

13. Making two pounds of paper requires 793 gallons of water—so think before you print!

14. Producing one smartphone—everything from mining metals to polishing the glass screens to making microchips—requires 240 gallons of water.

15. Making two pounds of beef requires 4068 gallons of water. Feed for the livestock accounts for 99 percent of that massive footprint.

For more fascinating facts about our world's water and how we consume it, order Stephen Leahy's Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, out November 2014 from Firefly Books.