4 Changes Ordinary People Can Make to Prevent Water Waste & Pollution

Source: James Stronsky.

Today is World Water Day so let’s go ahead and talk about water. Why? Water is an essential ingredient to life on Earth. All known lifeforms need and use it. Though less glamorous than a diamond ring, it is no less precious. In fact, it is probably the resource with the highest intrinsic value. 

Of the 37 largest aquifer systems in the world – from which drinking water is extracted – 21 are showing a decrease in total volume. With the global population expected to increase, the global demand for water will also increase. It’s important that we address the problem today, to accommodate the population growth of the future.

In line with this, I have compiled a list of ways you can reduce the amount of water you use in your daily lives. 

Eat less animal products

Of the freshwater which is available for use by humans, 70% of it is used for agriculture. However, the majority of this water is used specifically for animal agriculture. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, “most of the water consumed from agriculture is used to irrigate cereals or oleaginous seeds (soy, sunflower, cotton, linseed, etc.), which are, in turn, used as: food and protein integrators in cattle feed; to keep agricultural productivity high in order to feed cattle and to keep their intestines active; to quench their thirst; to clean stables, milking halls; slaughterhouses and so on”.

As such, reducing your intake of animal products is the most effective way to reduce your water footprint. For the biggest effect, just make sure you don’t replace them with avocados.

Stop wasting so much food

Following on from the agricultural theme, one way to reduce your water footprint further is to stop throwing food away. As a society we throw away one third of all the food that we produce. Given that agriculture accounts for the majority of water used, reducing our waste is guaranteed to have an impact. 

Source: Tom Fisk.

While dumpster diving is often illegal – protecting private interests is more important than the environment after all – there are sometimes other options to get involved. For example, in Germany we have apps like Too Good To Go, *SIRPLUS or foodsharing. They allow you to save food in a legal and efficient manner. Why not start an initiative if you don’t have one in your area?

In addition, reducing our need for agriculture reduces nitrogen based water pollution. 

Don’t buy fast fashion

According to Kirsty Jenkinson of the World Resources Institute, 22% of of our fresh water is used for industry.

The UN also states that the fashion industry “is responsible for producing twenty per cent of global wastewater and ten per cent of global carbon emissions”. Not only that but “cotton farming is responsible for 24 per cent of insecticides and 11 per cent of pesticides despite using only 3 per cent of the world’s arable land”.

So while giving up on fashion may not save as much water in terms of volume, it is very likely to reduce a lot of water based pollution; it seems us hipsters caught the water-saving trend early by shopping second hand. Alternatively you can swap old clothes with friends, or try on different platforms like Facebook. Basically just an extra reason not to go to Primark. 

Change the way you use at home

The remaining amount of water (8%) is used domestically. While the above suggestions will have a much bigger impact on your water footprint, it’s still important to look at all situations. You should only use a dishwasher/washing machine with a full load. It’s better to have a shower everyday than a bath. Maybe you can convince your building to install some kind of rainwater collection system? This is a particularly good point for those in Northern Europe. 

Individual impact

While there are certainly other ways to reduce your water footprint, these are some of the largest. If we were all to take personal responsibility of our usage, together we could have a huge impact. If you need convincing, just take a look at how one girl’s school strike has grown into a global movement.

At the end of the day it’s important to realise that each of these points has its own distinct impact: it’s much more worthwhile to take on the first three points than it is to spend 5 minutes less in the shower in the morning. 

*At the time of writing Jack is employed by SIRPLUS. 

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Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.