Sunday, July 19, 2009

Virtual Water (water footprint)

The production of 1 kilogram of:
- rice requires 3,000 litres of water
- maize requires 900 litres of water
- wheat requires 1,350 litres of water
- beef requires 16,000 litres of water.

Water is essential part of human life, when we are taking about our daily activity. People use lots of water for drinking, cooking and washing, but even more for producing things such as food, paper, cotton clothes, lifestyle products etc. The water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint (Virtual water)of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business.

  • The global volume of virtual water flows related to the international trade in commodities is 1,600 Km³/yr. About 80% of these virtual water flows relate to the trade in agricultural products, while the remainder is related to industrial product trade.
  • 140 litres of water are needed to produce 1 cup of coffee while the production of 1 litre of milk requires 1,000 litres of water.
  • Globally, water is saved if agricultural products are traded from regions with high water productivity to those with low water productivity. At present, if importing countries produced all imported agricultural products domestically, they would require 1,600 Km³ of water per year; however, the products are being produced with only 1.200 Km³/yr in the exporting countries, saving global water resources by roughly 400 billion m³/yr.
  • The per capita consumption of virtual water contained in our diets varies according to the type of diet, from 1 m³/day for a survival diet, to 2.6 m³/day for a vegetarian diet and over 5 m³ for a United States style meat based diet.
  • Only about 7% of the Chinese water footprint of 700 m³ per capita per year (m³/cap/yr) falls outside of China, whereas 65% of Japan's total water footprint of 1150 m³/cap/yr is external.
  • The United States appears to have an average water footprint of 2,480 m³/cap/yr, while the global average water footprint is 1,240 m³/cap/yr (US household use of 575 liters. Their large footprint is primarily because of our beef habit - large consumption of meat per capita).

When we are taking about daily usage products. Most of us consume Bottled water specially when we are traveling. Bottled water manufacturers’ encourage the perception that their products are purer and safer than tap water. Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water. In summary, the manufacture and transport of that one kilogram bottle of Fiji water consumed 26.88 kilograms of water (7.1 gallons) .849 Kilograms of fossil fuel (one litre or .26 gal) and emitted 562 grams of Greenhouse Gases (1.2 pounds).

The growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the bottles.

Another example: The Coca-Cola company is the largest beverage company in the world, and according to its own admission, the company used 283 billion liters of water in 2004.It is enough water to meet the entire world's drinking needs for 10 days! If we use the water that Coca-Cola used in 2004, we could meet the entire drinking needs of people who don't currently have access to clean drinking water for 47 days!

Coca-Cola's water use ratio in India is 4 to 1 - that is, 75% of the freshwater it extracts is turned into wastewater. The company has indiscriminately discharged its wastewater into the surrounding fields, severely polluting the scarce remaining groundwater as well as soil.

In India Coke’s mining of more than 1 million liters of ground water per day has parched the lands of some 2000 people within 1.2 miles of the factory. The company’s usage of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes has also been questioned by local residents. Due to the indiscriminate mining, the ground water has become contaminated with excessive calcium and magnesium from the dissolution of limestone that is associated with the groundwater deposit. Nearly 100 people have reported recurring stomach aches, which they relate to the brackish and milky white water that they are being forced to drink. Thousands of farmers across India are struggling to make a living because of crop failure as a result of the water shortages created by the Coca-Cola company.

The impacts being felt by the communities who live around Coca-Cola's bottling plants are no small matter. In a country where over 70% of the population still makes a living related to agriculture, taking away the water and poisoning the remaining water and the soil has had dramatic consequences.

When we are taking about design, it is not just an idea; it’s about the execution of an idea. That involves combination of different kinds of logic, psychological considerations, materials... and water or more accurately ‘virtual water’ (virtual water is the amount of water that is embedded in food or other products needed for its production) which is a essential part of any production. Thus, every product has a water footprint. It is estimated that almost a billion people in the world cannot meet even their basic water needs. Nobody thinks about those people while designing or manufacturing products that have huge water footprints associated with them.


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