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5 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Water Footprint

A water footprint is more complicated than you think. Here's what it is, how to calculate it, and easy ways to reduce your water footprint.

Written by
Inga Vallery Phlegar

Your water footprint is more than just the amount of water you consume or the time you spend in the shower. It begins from the moment you wake up.

Your morning routine alone may include a shower, brushing your teeth, and washing your face. It most likely also includes a freshly-brewed cup of coffee. Throughout the day, you make meals, refresh your pup's water bowl, water the plants, do the dishes, and maybe even mop the floor. Without even leaving the house, you've used up quite a bit of water.

As you can see, water is everywhere. It's essential to our lives, whether it's the obvious things—like filling up your reusable water bottle or taking a shower—or less obvious things, like opening up your laptop. (It takes more than 400 gallons of water to make a computer!) All living things, big or small, need water to survive and go about their day-to-day lives.

But what many of us don't realize is how we also use water in virtually all of our industries. A water footprint is a tool we can use to better understand our water consumption. This improved understanding can help us reduce our water usage and protect the planet.

What Is a Water Footprint?

A water footprint shows how much fresh water an individual, group, or organization uses. Water is considered a renewable resource. However, that doesn't mean it will return with the same quality and quantity, which is why it's important to have your water footprint in mind as you go about your daily routine.

For example, when you make your morning cup of coffee, more water goes into it than what you're adding to the coffee machine. It takes about 37 gallons of water to grow and prepare the beans that go into just one cup of coffee. Water was also required to produce the coffee maker itself. This hidden water we use is called "virtual water."

Adding this "virtual water" to the more direct water we use—like running the washing machine—creates the figure known as our water footprint. You can calculate a rough estimate of your individual water footprint using a water footprint calculator. And if you're looking for ways to reduce your water footprint, check out our helpful tips below.

How Can You Reduce Your Water Footprint?

1. Time Your Showers

The average showerhead in the U.S. flows at about 2.5 gallons per minute. This means if you're a fan of a relaxing 15-minute shower, you could be using 37.5 gallons of water.

The significance of 37.5 gallons is difficult to grasp. One way to envision it is that the average person needs to drink 8 glasses of water a day, or half a gallon. This means 37.5 gallons could last the average person about 75 days.

That's a lot of water. Reducing the quantity of time you spend in the shower could significantly decrease your water footprint. Even cutting five minutes off your typical shower time makes a huge difference.

  • A 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water, or 50 days of drinking water.
  • A 7-minute shower uses 17.5 gallons of water, or 35 days of drinking water.
  • A 5-minute shower uses 12.5 gallons of water, or 25 days of drinking water.

Another way to reduce the water you waste in the shower is to take fewer showers. This may seem unpleasant, or even gross, but it's actually dermatologist recommended.

2. Be Mindful at the Sink

Many of us are guilty of letting the water run while we brush our teeth. We don't even realize how much water is being wasted in that time, and we don't think anything of it because it seems like such a short amount of time.

The average kitchen sink uses roughly 2.2 gallons of water per minute (GPM), while the average bathroom sink uses about 1.5 GPM. So say you brush your teeth for two minutes—that could already be three gallons down the drain! When brushing your teeth, turn the water off if you're not using it to save water. Saving a little can go a long way.

Another surprising fact is washing your dishes in the sink by hand takes up more water than running the dishwasher! So if you have one, save yourself the chore—and save some water—by stacking your plates into the dishwasher instead.

3. Reduce How Many Times You Flush

This water-saving tip isn't the most glamourous. However, toilets make up about 30% of the water consumption in the average home.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we use about 1.28 gallons of water every time we flush. And the average person urinates about eight times a day, which is about 10.24 gallons of water flushed away. Moreover, every time you flush, you release a toilet plume. This means several germs are launched into the air.

So although it may not be the most socially acceptable thing, it might be better to decrease the number of times you flush. When there are no guests over, try to avoid flushing every time you urinate. Instead, flush every other time you urinate, which automatically saves you five gallons of water per day.

4. Think About What You're Wearing

Buying a new t-shirt uses over 650 gallons of water. A new pair of jeans might take over 2,100 gallons of water to make. And leather shoes can take 3,626 gallons of water to create. So, this one new outfit could amount to approximately 6,380 gallons of water. This is enough for a person to drink water for about 12,760 days, or 35 years.

These high numbers show that buying secondhand clothes from local or online thrift stores rather than new ones could have a positive impact on your water footprint. Instead of opting for new clothes from fast fashion brands, try thrifting or upcycling old clothes. Or, support sustainable fashion brands that are mindful of their water usage.

5. Consider Your Diet

All living things need water. Therefore, most of what we eat—whether our food is plant-based or animal-derived—requires water. However, some foods use up more water than others.

Fruits and vegetables are the least water-intensive foods because, as a general rule of thumb, plant-based foods don't require as much water as animal products. The most water-intensive option is meat: Cows, pigs, chickens, or other animals drink water, and they eat food that was produced using water. Water is also required to produce the meat.

By swapping animal products for plant-based options a few times a week, you're already reducing your water footprint. Give these vegan recipes and vegetarian recipes a try.