A cup of coffee uses 1040x more water than you see. Why?

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

Make a list in your head of how you use water each day. I expect you think of: drinking water, tea or coffee, showering, brushing your teeth… But you actually “use” a lot more water than you see! This is because almost everything you use, eat, or drink requires water during its production [5].

Let’s compare the “water footprints” of different products: the amount of water that is consumed and polluted at all stages of production [5].

Some examples: swipe across to see a table! Although a cup of coffee only contains about 0.125 liters of water, to produce it about 130 liters were needed [2]! This varies depending on where and how the coffee was made [13]. Most of this water was rain that fed the coffee plant, helping it grow [1]. Use reference [2] and the table to compare water use of different products – see how much water chocolate, meat, and cotton use!

A water footprint is split into 3 types:

1) Water from rain or snow [5]. How “bad” this is depends not only on the number of liters, but also on how scarce water is in the region [8,9]. Using the same amount of water in a place that suffers from drought will be far more problematic than in a naturally rainy region.

2) Water from the surface, lakes, or underground [5]. This is particularly problematic because it can involve unsustainable use of water sources [5,7]. This is the case with cotton [2,10]: irrigation of cotton has shrunk what was once the 4th largest lake in the world to just 10% of its original size, and left 5 million people living in a degraded environment [11,12].

3) Pollution of water: the amount of water needed to bring polluted water up to official quality standards (by diluting the pollution) [2].

In most cases we want to use water sparingly and save it for other purposes; in the case of water pollution we want to reduce it to zero [6]!


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