Solutions To Water Scarcity, Water Stress, & Other ‘Water Quantity’ Related Problems

Solutions To Water Scarcity, Water Stress, & Other 'Water Quantity' Related Problems

Water scarcity and high water stress are ‘water quantity’ related global (fresh) water problems.

Some solutions to these issues are general, whilst others are specific to a local region or city (as different regions and cities around the world have different natural conditions, and water supply related variables to deal with)

Solutions can also be implemented across many levels, including but not limited to the global, national, State, city, sector, and individual levels.

In this guide, we outline a range of these solutions, and also include real examples of what cities are already doing to address water stress and scarcity problems.

 

Summary – Solutions To Water Scarcity & Other ‘Lack Of Fresh Water’ Related Problems

*Other relevant notes to consider about water scarcity and water stress:

 

Some Of The Most Effective Or Common Solutions

It depends on the city in question, but, some of the common major solutions for cities around the world have been:

  • Better awareness and data analysis on indicators of water risk, and being able to measure and sustainably manage different aspects of water resources supply
  • Restricting, rationing and controlling water withdrawals so water supply levels don’t go below a certain point, or don’t outpace renewal rates
  • Adapting to the local climate – if it’s a hot (high surface temperature) and dry (low or variable rainfall) climate for example, or if it has a strong frequency and intensity of natural events like droughts that impact rainfall. Cities and towns can get around this by using climate independent technology like desalination, waste/grey/storm water treatment and recycling, and so on (that doesn’t depend on rain, and isn’t affected by droughts, and so on) 
  • Diversifying to more than one source or type of water supply source – to diversify risk, and gain the benefits of different types of water supplies

Note though that sustainable water supply management strategies are an ongoing thing, and constant effort must be maintained to ensure potable and non potable fresh water supplies into the long term future.

 

A List Of Other General Solutions

  • Have water sources that are independent of rainfall, the climate and natural variability, and natural events (like droughts) – for example, desalination is independent of rainfall and natural factors. This protects against climate change, natural variability, and other factors that can lead to inconsistent ro inadequate water supplies
  • Don’t rely on just one water source, or just one type of water source – diversify to several water sources, or several different types of water sources (e.g. surface water sources, ground water sources, desalination, replenishment schemes (for aquifers), waste water treatment and re-use, water recycling plants, rain water harvesting, generating water from the atmosphere/air with an atmospheric water generator, and so on)
  • Sustainably manage withdrawals from both surface water and ground water sources, and especially be mindful of overwithdrawing from ground water sources (this has been a problem in countries like India).
  • Consider increasing total renewable fresh water supply capacity if required – per capita, and total volume. And, weigh this up against current demand, forecasted future demand, replenishment rates, and other relevant factors
  • Look for ways to generate new fresh water from salt water – from desalination for example
  • Look for ways to re-use and recycle water (with water recycling plants for example), and specifically treat and re-use waste water (with waste water treatment technology, and processes to re-use waste water where possible). Incentivize farmers and industry to treat and re-use waste water – at the moment, it’s cheaper and easier to simply use new water (wri.org). But, there’s big potential here, and 80% of the world’s waste water is discharged into nature without treatment
  • Look for ways to use water more efficiently across the agricultural (by upgrading irrigation systems for example – like what has happened in California, see circleofblue.org), industry (by looking into dry cooling for example for thermo electric power plants for example, or CO2 cleaning in factories and manufacturing spaces as opposed to water cleaning), and municipal areas of society (one big area people might save water is through wasting less food as food has a large water footprint for individuals. But, we may also reduce water loss through public supply pipes by upgrading and maintaining them, or by using pipe leak detection and alarm sensors and software). Flood irrigation and water intensive wet cooling use more water than necessary right now (wri.org)
  • In addition to efficiency, we can look to use water in the most effective ways – consider what uses of water provide the best results and returns
  • Maintain and upgrade water infrastructure where required – treatment plants, pipes, sewer systems, and so on
  • Consider the benefits of agriculture and industry in particular investing in water saving, water conserving and water efficient technology, systems and equipment
  • Look for ways to minimise water leaks, loss and waste across all areas of society – can involve identifying where we leak, lose and waste the most water, implementing detection processes, and implementing new technology or equipment that minimises it
  • Address water pollution and contamination, and increase water quality – degraded water quality reduces the amount of available water. So, reducing pollution and contamination, and treating water that can be brought back to an adequate condition to be used or consumed, increases the amount of available water
  • Reduce the frequency of cross contamination of fresh water sources from salt water (Miami is an example of where this happened). Address contamination when it happens
  • Have emergency plans in place specifically for natural events and disasters like droughts, floods, and hurricanes – all of which can impact and disrupt water supplies
  • Consider the effectiveness of educating consumers on their consumption habits, lifestyles and the associated water footprints – as societies get more wealthy or the middle class grows, they may consume more water intensive products like fossil fuels and meat
  • Ensure individuals have basic drinking water and fresh water rights and water is affordable to all, but, re-assess how the different types of water are priced across the whole of society and consider if high users should pay more (is water underpriced as a resource considering it faces scarcity concerns now and in the future?). When the price of receiving clean water is closer to its actual service cost, efficient water use will be incentivized, and there will be more incentive to invest in effective and efficient water use (wri.org)
  • Find more ways to capture/harvest rain water and use it
  • Find more ways for the different parts of society to holistically use, treat and re-use water – so, water use becomes more circular and involves more recycling as opposed to linear usage (e.g. consider how waste water and used water from hydro electric plants, sewage treatment plants, etc can be re-used – like for example, for energy)
  • Increase the social and cultural awareness about the true value of fresh water
  • Increase the awareness of the general public and governments about global water issues
  • Increase awareness about the utility of drinking recycled water
  • National, State and local water policy that is in line with short term and long term sustainable water resource management goals 
  • Making use of backyard bores when public water infrastructure and supplies are inadequate
  • Using the natural environment where possible to assist with aspect of in the fresh water water lifecycle – like for example, using fine sand for water filtering and water storage outside of some cities (Perth is one example of this)
  • Consider water efficiency and conservation training and assistance for businesses and farmers. Also, consider how the biggest water users can plan, put into practice, track and forecast their own sustainable water usage strategies
  • Consider tiered pricing water withdrawal and consumption rates for the highest users of fresh water in society (industries and agriculture being the main two)
  • Consider penalties, incentives, credits and initiatives for inefficient and efficient water users
  • Consider tracking and monitoring annual water footprints for the biggest water users in society
  • Better address political and institutional conflicts of interest when it comes to national and regional water supply management
  • Better balance of environmental, economical and other priorities when it comes to water management and use (priorities can conflict – e.g. growth vs conservation and preservation)
  • Better balance urban and rural water needs (as each can be different) – for example, rural communities in California suffer more in regards to drought related water issues than urban areas
  • Ensure laws, regulations (such as the Clean Water Act) and testing related to water serve goals related to sustainability
  • Co-operation and management strategies between countries, States, cities and populations that share water resources
  • Co-operation and management strategies between countries, States, cities and populations that participate in interregional water transfers
  • More openness to increased research and development, and innovation in water infrastructure and water technology, and the short and long term benefits in doing so
  • Forming public private partnerships between business and governments for new water initiatives and projects where it seems smart to do so
  • Put more focus into maintaining healthy eco systems and natural infrastructure like plants, trees, vegetation, forests and so on – that is responsible for clean, plentiful water (through filtering pollutants, buffering against floods, and regulating water supply), replenishing groundwater, etc. One way to do this is by limiting deforestation, overgrazing, urbanization and so on
  • Placing more emphasis on, and putting more action into rebuilding and maintaining soil health across all types of land, but especially farm land, forests, open fields, and areas where water can filter, be retained and flow. Just one example of this is in farming, where by eliminating tillage and planting cover crops, farmers can build the soil’s carbon content and enable it to store more water. Soil, wetlands, and ecosystems play an important role in regulating water in different ways, and vice versa, water benefits them
  • Preserve forests for the sake of watersheds
  • Making water conservation a school subject in primary and secondary school
  • Work on transboundary, as well as international agreements in sustainably managing water 
  • Transfer technology and working sustainable water practices from country to country, and from developed countries to developing countries
  • Consider what the maximum population number a city can support is, in terms of sustainably providing water for those people, and manage populations in those areas as required
  • There a list of specific water scarcity solutions across a range of areas in industry and society available in this resource – https://www.waterscarcitysolutions.org/

 

Some general solutions from weforum.org about how the world can avoid a water crisis:

  • [Cities and businesses can use initial screening tools to identify future water risks and water crisis events, and these tools can be improved to better account for certain water risk factors, and also both chronic and acute water risks and triggering events such as low reservoirs, and basic hydrology, just to name a few]
  • [Places like urban LA that get far less rain fall than a place like Chennai are having less water scarcity problems as they invest in technology like storm water capture] – [elaborated on further at wired.com]
  • [A cities water infrastructure must be maintained, as well as their water absorbing wetlands]
  • [Cities should have access to adequate water data for making water management decisions that impact the future, and to forecast future water demand]
  • [Cities should ensure good water management by eliminating corruption and political or institutional inadequacy, understanding their water cycle, understanding the requirements and differences of surface and ground water, and understanding how to incorporate all this into good water policy]
  • [Balance interests between competing groups who want to use water in different ways]
  • [Cities can undertake initial risk assessments to understand their water risks and vulnerabilities, and their comprehensive shocks and stressors, and can implement better water management strategies and processes as a result. Implementation and responses to these assessments should address multiple water risks and not just one]
  • [Cities can start to get very specific with their water management strategies, by defining answers to these types of questions …] When does a city start reducing demand? And to whom? What severity of water restrictions are residents willing to tolerate? When are new investments in supply and storage made?
  • [Cities need to have water management strategies that go beyond election cycles and focus on the long term]
  • The legal foundation establishing priority to water among different users, [and] the authority to enforce restrictions [needs to be clear]
  • [Ultimately, although managing water risk can be complex, it is something that needs constant focus, and not just sporadic efforts and investment. It will come down to integrated water resources management of all levels of society working together – national, regional, local and individual levels]
  • [Water scarcity and water stress may not ever go away or ever be fully solves – but it can be much better managed than it currently is in many parts of the world]

 

From worldwildlife.org:

  • Some of the keys to managing water scarcity are … 
  • Increasing supplies of fresh water
  • Managing fresh water supplies adequately
  • Using water effectively and efficiently
  • Promoting water stewardship at the government and company levels with standards, footprinting, measuring, and so on
  • Protecting wetlands
  • And, adapting to the climate and the potential effects of climate change

 

From wired.com:

  • [Diversification of water sources is a key, as well as relying on more climate independent sources]
  • [There’s many types of new water technology available like desalination, waste water recycling, generating water from the atmosphere, and so on … but, each one of these has pros and cons]
  • [Ultimately, we have to also combine the above things with conservation, and a mindset of valuing water more]

 

From Wikipedia.org:

  • [Countries like Australia have shown it’s possible to decouple water consumption from economic growth, where] water consumption declined by 40% between 2001 and 2009 while the economy grew by more than 30%. 
  • [Governments need to stop investing in inefficient, costly, and expensive mega projects, and other solutions with major environmental or economic problems]
  • The most cost-effective way of decoupling water use from economic growth … is for governments to create holistic water management plans that take into account the entire water cycle: from source to distribution, economic use, treatment, recycling, reuse and return to the environment.
  • Developed countries can share cost effective solutions with developing or underdeveloped countries, and also information on hydrological transport modeling
  • Both developed and developing countries can increase protection and health of ecosystems that absorb, filter, and hold/store especially wetlands and riparian zones
  • Individuals can reduce water over consumption
  • Companies can focus on local, low-tech solutions such as solar power to distill water

 

From UNWater.org:

  • Water has to be treated as a scarce resource, with a far stronger focus on managing demand. Integrated water resources management provides a broad framework for governments to align water use patterns with the needs and demands of different users, including the environment.

 

From WRI.org:

  • National and local governments must [address climate change]
  • Governments must also respond with [water] management and conservation practices that will help protect essential sustainable water resources …
  • [Governments can import agricultural items instead of growing them locally in an attempt to outsource their water footprint and consumption, and save water]

 

Again from WRI.org:

  • [Roughly 82% of waste water isn’t re-used in the Middle East & North Africa – there’s potential in this regard]
  • [Some water stressed countries though are making use of this option … ] Oman treats 100% of its collected wastewater and reuses 78% of it.  About 84% of all wastewater collected in Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is treated to safe levels, but only 44% goes on to be reused.
  • [India has set up a national government ministry just to deal with water issues]. And, other solutions India could pursue are more efficient irrigation; conserving and restoring lakes, floodplains, and groundwater recharge areas; and collecting and storing rainwater.
  • Proper management of water is the key to all water security issues
  • Saudi Arabia sets water prices to incentivize conservation and has a program set up to set water conservation targets
  • Namibia … has been turning sewage water into drinking water for the past 50 years.
  • And Australia nearly halved domestic water use to avert its own Day Zero moment during the Millennium Drought. The country’s water-trading scheme, the largest in the world, allows for smart allocation of water among users in the face of variable supplies.
  • Rome utilized water rationing to conserve it’s water resources
  • 3 of the ways we can reduce water stress globally are via increased agricultural efficiency, investing in grey and green infrastructure, and treating, re-using and recycling water
  • Read more on these 3 options at https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

 

From watersource.awa.asn.au:

  • [In the MENA region] Just 18% of the area’s wastewater is currently reused, which means it is an untapped resource that could help boost water security. Oman is leading the way and already reuses 78% of the wastewater it collects
  • [Water policy needs to be tackled at the local level …] While it’s helpful for policymakers to understand and take action on water stress at the national level, water is an inherently local issue

 

From GE.com:

  • Water re-use and specifically re-using greywater presents good benefits and opportunities for non potable applications (addressing regulatory standards helps with this), in food manufacturing where is can help reduce water and electricity usage, and in the oil and gas industry
  • Singapore, Arizona and the Carigali-PTTEPI Operating Company has had success with this
  • Singapore now boasts production of more than 100 million gallons a day of recycled water for industrial, commercial and domestic use
  • In the oil and gas industry … they were able to save 132,000 gallons of water and $52 million a year by reducing platform downtime with water reuse

 

From ScienceAlert.com:

  • India can manage its water risk with the help of reliable and robust data pertaining to rainfall, surface, and groundwater to develop strategies that strengthen resilience
  • In MENA (Middle East, & North Africa), the problem has more to do with recycling wastewater. Over 80 percent of MENA’s water is not reused, so if these countries create infrastructure around this idea, it could create a whole new source of clean water
  • Australia is a good example of how effective management can save a country on the brink of water stress. On the way to its own Day Zero during a millennium drought, the nation nearly halved its domestic water use. That said, the country still experiences severe drought issues exacerbated by climate change
  • Countries must look at individual regions and states within the whole country to come up with sustainable water management strategies
  • If the world doesn’t improve its agricultural efficiency, decrease its water use and recycle and reuse wastewater, water scarcity could be a permanent stress of the future

 

From borgenproject.org:

  • Libya constructed the Great Man Made River Project, which is designed water from the desert aquifers to more populated coastal regions, but, the construction time in uncertain, and the the aquifers non renewable
  • Jordan has had outside funding into advanced water infrastructure, decreasing water loss and conserving water
  • External groups have helped Djibouti manage water to rural areas, and prepare for disasters by improving weather monitoring systems, updating emergency plans and establishing early warning systems for both floods and droughts.

 

From businessinsider.com.au:

  • Jordan – teaching water conservation in schools, and restricts running water to 12-24 hours a week
  • Kuwait – uses desalination for 99% of fresh water 
  • Saudi Arabia – uses desalination, and prices water to incentivize conservation
  • Eritrea – uses desalination, and is trying to make desalination more eco friendly
  • Turkmenistan – opening a gigantic lake, but may have long term problems
  • Oman – treats waste water and reuses nearly 80% of it
  • Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia – importing water for Lesotho via a pipeline

 

From bloomberg.com:

  • Qatar – depends heavily on desalination

 

From bbc.com:

  • Beijing – water diversion projects, educational programmes, and price hikes for heavy business water users
  • Mexico City – could start recycling waste water, and upgrade pipe networks that are leading to water loss
  • London – heading towards hosepipe bans in the future
  • Tokyo – At least 750 private and public buildings in Tokyo have rainwater collection and utilisation systems, and, recent investment in the pipeline infrastructure aims also to reduce waste by leakage to only 3% in the near future

 

From USnews.com:

  • Some cities and places in India, such as Chennai, use water trucks to carry water into cities where water isn’t available

 

Key Indicators For A City’s Sustainable Water Management Strategy

Some of the key indicators a city might pay attention to in order to develop and maintain a sustainable water management strategy are:

Supply Indicators

  • Assess the available internal renewable fresh water resources in the form of surface water (lakes, rivers, dams etc), and ground water sources. Consider the annual per capita supplies, and total volume of these resources. These water resources must also be of adequate quality i.e. they can’t be polluted, contaminated or brackish, or, they must be treated and purified before use to meet Act/regulation guidelines (in the case of drinking water), or independent testing (in the case of water for agricultural irrigation)
  • Assess the ability to increase fresh water resource capacity (one example is building an additional dam)
  • Assess the ability to generate fresh water on demand (with technology such as desalination for example)

Replenishment Indicators

  • Consider the rate at which fresh water sources are replenished from rain fall. Part of this may consider studying rainfall, evaporation, the hydrologic cycle, effectiveness of catchment areas (their response to rainfall), and inflows and stream flows. Note that ground water is usually replenished (via percolation of water from rainfall or surface water sources through spaces in the soil and rock profile) at much slower rates than surface water (ground water can take 5 years or more to see meaningful change). Also, consider year to year variability in rainfall, and events like droughts that can impact replenishment rates

Demand Indicators

  • Withdrawal & Consumption Rates – consider the rates at which water is both withdrawn and consumed from fresh water sources … and, compare this to the replenishment rate (look at rates, but also pure volume). Note that withdrawal may involve re-use of the water or returning it to it’s original source, whilst consumption means the water is permanently gone from it’s original water source. Also, consider the major sectors and businesses that are withdrawing and consuming water, and consider usage regulations/policy, and increases in efficiency for major users.

Re-Use & Recycling Indicators

  • Assess the ability to treat, re-use and recycle used water, and waste water (from industry, but also from storm water, run-off and rain fall)

Loss, Wastage & Leakage Indicators

  • Consider the rate at which water is lost, wasted or leaks from various stages of the water life cycle. Just as one example – leaks from public water supply pipes and other water infrastructure before it arrives for it’s end use is a common source of water leakage and loss.

It’s important cities and towns invest in and continue to maintain the full range of their water infrastructure that is responsible for extracting, treating, transporting, and delivering fresh water to it’s end use. Water may then be treated and re-used again after use. Water may even be introduced to this lifecycle via additional rainwater harvesting, utilizing storm water and run-off, and so on.

 

Solutions On Different Levels

Solutions to water scarcity and water stress can occur on different levels.

These levels might include:

  • Global – addressing climate change & it’s potential impact on the hydrologic cycle (rainfall, evaporation, etc). Rainfall is responsible for stream flow or inflow into catchment areas and surface water sources, as well as filtering into groundwater sources.
  • National – national water policy, national water management, and budgets/investment allocated to water infrastructure
  • State – State water policy, State water management, and budgets/investment allocated to water infrastructure
  • City – every city has different water supply variables and factors to consider. Just some examples are their total fresh water capacity, demand rate (withdrawal and consumption rates), ability to increase capacity or create new fresh water, population growth, local climate, economic growth, water loss and waste rates, efficiency rates across the major water users, water pollution rates, and so on
  • Sector – there are three main sectors responsible for water withdrawals. Those are agriculture (irrigation being a big one), industry (wet cooling in thermo-electric power plants being a big one), and municipal (households and public supply). Better water efficiency in agriculture and industry in particular (which take up 70% and 20% respectively globally of the withdrawals) can help as part of the solution
  • Individual – Individuals have a water footprint. Food makes up a significant majority of our water footprint. Not wasting food can help minimise our food water footprint. But, apart from foods, we can also be mindful of how water intensive the products we buy are to make and operate, and also be mindful of water use in the homes (cooking, cleaning, outdoors/backyard). Consumerism in general and consumption patterns and habits have an impact on the water footprint of society
  • Shared – some cities share water resources with other cities. A shared water resources management plan helps here.
  • External – some cities and States rely in part on transboundary water transfers, and external water resources. Decreasing reliance on these resources and increasing reliance on internal resources can help here.

 

Potential Challenges & Problems Associated With Some Water Scarcity & Stress Solutions

There can be both short term and long problems with some of the solutions for water stress and scarcity.

One of the most common problems is cost, but others can be practical, logistical, environmental, social, institutional, and so on.

Those problems can include:

  • Desalination – desalination can have it’s own set of pros and cons
  • Water Recycling – it can often be far cheaper and quicker for industry to dump used waste water untreated and use new water, compared to treating waste water and re-using it. In addition, waste water treatment and recycling technology, and dedicated water recycling plants aren’t cheap.

 

Wikipedia.org outlines some of the problems with current sustainable water management solutions:

  • [Some solutions are hugele inefficient, costly, expensive to run and generally environmentally sustainable nor economically viable – such as mega projects, construction of wastewater treatment plants, reducing groundwater overdrafting, and so on]

 

GE.com outlines:

  • Strict water regulations can impose barriers on treating, re-using and recycling waste and grey water

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/words-phrases-to-describe-different-global-water-issues-what-they-mean/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/biggest-global-fresh-water-issues-problems-solutions/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-water-scarce-water-stressed-countries-cities-in-the-world-now-forecast-into-the-future/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-scarcity-vs-water-stress-vs-water-shortage-differences-similarities-definitions/

5. https://www.waterscarcitysolutions.org/

6. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/08/the-next-urban-water-crisis-inadequate-data-clouds-the-forecast/

7. https://www.wired.com/story/la-is-doing-water-better-than-your-city-yes-that-la/

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_scarcity

9. http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/

10. https://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/ranking-world-s-most-water-stressed-countries-2040

11. https://borgenproject.org/most-water-scarce-countries/

12. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

13. https://www.ge.com/reports/global-thirst-water-use-industry/

14. https://www.sciencealert.com/17-countries-are-facing-extreme-water-stress-and-they-hold-a-quarter-of-the-world-s-population

15. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-scarcity-case-study-perth-western-australia-what-the-world-can-learn-from-perths-water-scarcity-problems-solutions/

16. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/cape-town-water-shortage-case-study-causes-solutions-what-we-can-learn-for-future-water-crisis-events/

17. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-cities-countries-might-ensure-a-sustainable-water-supply-in-the-future-protect-against-water-shortages-water-scarcity/

18. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/most-water-stressed-countries-in-the-world-2019-8?r=US&IR=T

19. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-countries-facing-water-crisis/

20. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959

21. https://watersource.awa.asn.au/environment/natural-environment/new-data-maps-worlds-most-water-stressed-regions/

22. https://www.usnews.com/news/cities/slideshows/10-cities-most-at-risk-of-running-out-of-water

23. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

24. https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/08/7-reasons-were-facing-global-water-crisis

25. https://www.circleofblue.org/2010/world/experts-name-the-top-19-solutions-to-the-global-freshwater-crisis/

Most Water Scarce & Water Stressed Countries & Cities In The World (Now, & Forecast Into The Future)

Most Water Scarce & Water Stressed Countries & Cities In The World (Now, & Forecast Into The Future)

Water scarcity and water stress are problems generally related to inadequate internal fresh water resources to meet demand on those resources.

Different countries, cities and regions experience different levels of water stress, and some experience water scarcity.

In this guide, we look at the places that have the worst problems right now, and also what the forecast might be for the future.

 

Summary – Countries & Cities With The Worst Water Stress & Water Scarcity Problems

  • There is a difference between water stress and water scarcity
  • Water stress is a sliding scale – regions can have anywhere between very low to extreme levels of water stress 
  • Water scarcity on the other hand refers to the point where extremely high levels of water stress are reached, and there is essentially not enough renewable internal fresh water resources to meet demand on those resources
  • As of 2020, around 17 countries in the world, containing roughly one quarter of the world’s population [1.7 billion people], are experiencing ‘extremely high’ levels of water stress (wri.org)
  • 12 out of those 17 countries are found in The Middle East and North Africa, which are also the most water stressed regions on Earth (wri.org)
  • India is one of the major water stressed countries in the world, and contains 1.37 billion of those 1.7 billion people
  • Around 44 countries, containing roughly one third of the world’s population, are experiencing ‘high’ levels of water stress (wri.org)
  • Several organisations have ‘water stress level’ rankings where the water stress levels for every region of every country in the world can be seen. What we see is that even within one country, water stress levels can differ significantly between different regions across the country
  • It should be noted that there is a difference between potable fresh water for drinking, and non potable fresh water. Cities and countries can have secure drinking water resources, but may be facing non potable water stress and/or scarcity. So, this is something that needs to be clarified when dealing with water stress and scarcity
  • Something else that should be noted is that high levels of water stress and water scarcity aren’t always permanent – countries and cities can sometimes move to low water stress, or away from water scarcity, with more sustainable fresh water management and strategy

 

What Is Water Stress, & What Is Water Scarcity?

Water stress refers to a set of water quantity related conditions that are slightly different than water scarcity. 

For example, water stress is a sliding scale ranging from very high water stress (usually characterized by high demand for limited internal fresh water resources) to very low water stress (usually characterized by demand on water resources making up a very small share of the total fresh water resources available).

Water scarcity on the other hand only refers to situations of extremely high water stress, and can lead to water shortage events like the one seen in Cape Town in recent times.

Read this guide which outlines the differences, similarities and definitions of each.

 

Most Water Stressed Countries & Cities In The World

As of 2020, the top 50 most water stressed countries in the world, according to WRI’s Aqueduct country rankings, are (higher values indicate more competition among users for available renewable water supplies in that country):

  1. Qatar 
  2. Lebanon 
  3. Israel 
  4. Iran
  5. Jordan
  6. Libya
  7. Kuwait
  8. Saudi Arabia
  9. Eritrea
  10. UAE
  11. San Marino
  12. Bahrain
  13. India
  14. Pakistan
  15. Oman
  16. Turkmenistan
  17. Botswana
  18. Chile
  19. Yemen
  20. Cyprus
  21. Andorra
  22. Belgium
  23. Morocco
  24. Mexico
  25. Uzbekistan
  26. Greece
  27. Afghanistan
  28. Spain
  29. Algeria
  30. Tunisia
  31. Syria
  32. Turkey
  33. Albania
  34. Armenia
  35. Burkina Faso
  36. Djibouti
  37. Namibia
  38. Kyrgyzstan
  39. Niger
  40. Nepal
  41. Portugal
  42. Iraq
  43. Egypt
  44. Italy
  45. Thailand
  46. Azerbaijan
  47. Sudan
  48. South Africa
  49. Luxembourg
  50. Australia

See the full rankings at https://www.wri.org/applications/aqueduct/country-rankings/

There’s also a set of 164 countries and an overall National Water Stress Rankings List, organised by different levels of water stress available here:

  • https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

 

According to Wikipedia.org:

  • Water stress is ever intensifying in regions such as China, India, and Sub-Saharan Africa, which contains the largest number of water stressed countries of any region with almost one fourth of the population living in a water stressed country.
  • The world’s most water stressed region is the Middle East with averages of 1,200 cubic metres of water per person.
  • In China, more than 538 million people are living in a water-stressed region.
  • Much of the water stressed population currently live in river basins where the usage of water resources greatly exceed the renewal of the water source.

 

Water Stress In The United States

On average, the United States has low to medium water stress, but it differs from state to state (wri.org).

There are some states in the US experiencing medium, high and extremely high water stress.

You can view a map here of the different US states and their level of water stress:

  • https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

 

One forecast for the US in the future:

  • A study in the US from earlier this year, predicted that in just five decades, the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South and the Midwest are likely to experience significant water shortages.

– sciencealert.com

 

How Many People In The World Are Water Stressed?

  • More than one in every six people in the world is water stressed, meaning that they do not have sufficient access to potable [drinking] water.
  • Those that are water stressed make up 1.1 billion people in the world and are living in developing countries.
  • In 2006, about 700 million people in 43 countries were living below the 1,700 cubic metres of water per person, per year threshold.

– Wikipedia.org

 

Countries & Cities Experiencing Water Scarcity

Water scarcity can be measured and assessed in several different ways.

Using the Criticality ratio (from Globalwaterforum.org): ‘… a country is said to be water scarce if annual withdrawals are between 20-40% of annual supply, and severely water scarce if they exceed 40%’.

There is a map available at this resource, which shows the regions in the different countries in the world that are experiencing different levels of water stress, and are withdrawing different amounts of their annual supply:

  • https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

There’s also another map here:

  • https://www.wri.org/applications/aqueduct/country-rankings/ (WRI’s Aqueduct tool)

 

As of 2020:

  • … around 17 countries in the world, containing roughly one quarter of the world’s population, are experiencing ‘extremely high’ levels of water stress
  • 12 out of those 17 countries are found in The Middle East and North Africa, which are also the most water stressed regions on Earth 
  • Around 44 countries, containing roughly one third of the world’s population, are experiencing ‘high’ levels of water stress 
  • [Specifically with India -] ‘India ranks 13th for overall water stress and has more than three times the population of the other 17 extremely highly stressed countries combined [and their surface water and ground water resources are overdrawn for irrigation in agriculture]’
  • [Even though the United States and South Africa are countries with low water stress, they have pockets of the country experiencing extreme water stress – such as the Western Cape, and New Mexico. So, this shows that regions of countries can experience water stress differently than other parts.]

– wri.org

 

Some of the individual cities that have recently experienced water scarcity and different categories of water shortages are:

  • Chennai, India
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Rome, Italy

– wri.org

 

How Many People In The World Currently Experience Water Scarcity?

  • … more than 1 billion people currently live in water-scarce regions [in the world]

– ceoworld.biz

 

  • One-third of the global population (2 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year
  • Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round
  • Half of the world’s largest cities experience water scarcity

– Wikipedia.org

 

  • a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year

– worldwildlife.org

 

Countries & Cities Forecast To Experience High Water Stress Or Water Scarcity In The Future (Up To 2040)

Forecasting water stress and scarcity for the future is more of an estimate than a guarantee due to various factors.

 

According to WRI.org:

  • [climate models and socioeconomic scenarios] WRI scored and ranked future water stress in 167 countries—with water stress being a measure of competition and depletion of surface water …
  • … 33 countries face extremely high water stress in 2040
  • … Chile, Estonia, Namibia, and Botswana could face an especially significant increase in water stress by 2040
  • … Fourteen of the 33 likely most water stressed countries in 2040 are in the Middle East, including nine considered extremely highly stressed with a score of 5.0 out of 5.0: Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon
  • [Specific areas of the US and China] such as the southwestern U.S. and China’s Ningxia province, could see water stress increase by up to 40 to 70 percent

View the full resource including a ‘Water Stress By 2040’ map for all regions around the world, and water stress projection for 2010, 2020, 2030 and 2040 at:

  • https://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/ranking-world-s-most-water-stressed-countries-2040

They list the top 33 water stressed countries by 2040 as:

  1. Bahrain
  2. Kuwait
  3. Qatar
  4. San Marino
  5. Singapore
  6. UAE
  7. Palestine
  8. Israel
  9. Saudi Arabia
  10. Oman
  11. Lebanon
  12. Kyrgyzstan
  13. Iran
  14. Jordan
  15. Libya
  16. Yemen
  17. Macedonia
  18. Azerbaijan
  19. Morocco
  20. Kazakhstan
  21. Iraq
  22. Armenia
  23. Pakistan
  24. Chile
  25. Syria
  26. Turkmenistan
  27. Turkey
  28. Greece
  29. Uzbekistan
  30. Algeria
  31. Afghanistan
  32. Spain
  33. Tunisia

 

These cities are most likely to run out of water in the future (unless action is taken):

  • Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Bangalore, India
  • Beijing, China
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • London, UK
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Miami, US

– bbc.com

 

What Is The Future Trend For Water Scarcity & Water Stress?

  • Water Demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% in 2030, if current trends continue [which could lead to stress and scarcity]
  • Scarcity can be expected to intensify with most forms of economic development, but, if correctly identified, many of its causes can be predicted, avoided or mitigated

– Wikipedia.org

 

How Many Total People Could Experience Water Stress In The Future?

  • Researchers at MIT say roughly half the world’s projected 9.7 billion people will live in water-stressed regions by 2050

– sciencealert.com

 

How Many Total People Could Experience Water Scarcity In The Future?

  •  … as many as 3.5 billion could experience water scarcity by 2025

– ceoworld.biz

 

More Stats & Facts On Water Stress & Water Scarcity Around The World

See these resources:

  • https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/
  • https://www.seametrics.com/blog/future-water/

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-scarcity-vs-water-stress-vs-water-shortage-differences-similarities-definitions/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/biggest-global-fresh-water-issues-problems-solutions/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/cape-town-water-shortage-case-study-causes-solutions-what-we-can-learn-for-future-water-crisis-events/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/words-phrases-to-describe-different-global-water-issues-what-they-mean/

5. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress

6. https://www.wri.org/applications/aqueduct/country-rankings/

7. https://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/ranking-world-s-most-water-stressed-countries-2040

8. https://ceoworld.biz/2019/08/08/most-water-stressed-countries-in-the-world-for-2019/

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_scarcity

10. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

11. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/

12. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959

13. https://www.usnews.com/news/cities/slideshows/10-cities-most-at-risk-of-running-out-of-water

14. https://watersource.awa.asn.au/environment/natural-environment/new-data-maps-worlds-most-water-stressed-regions/

15. https://borgenproject.org/most-water-scarce-countries/

16. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/aug/06/extreme-water-stress-affects-a-quarter-of-the-worlds-population-say-experts

17. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-countries-facing-water-crisis/

18. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/most-water-stressed-countries-in-the-world-2019-8?r=US&IR=T

19. https://www.seametrics.com/blog/future-water/

Biggest Global (Fresh) Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

Biggest Global (Fresh) Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

Global fresh water issues and problems generally fit into one of two broad categories.

In this guide, we identify these categories, and also the specific water problems associated with them.

We also look to identify potential short term and long term options and solutions to address them.

 

Summary – Biggest Global Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

* Note – this guide also does not cover natural disasters that involve water, such as river floods. 

 

Biggest Global Water Issues & Problems – Quantity & Quality Of Water

1. Quantity Of Water

Some of the key factors that need to be taken into account when assessing water quantity related problems may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • The total volume (and capacity) of available internal fresh water resources (surface water, and ground water sources
  • Demand on those resources – withdrawal and consumption rates
  • Renewal/replenishment rates (usually from hydrological cycle, taking into account rainfall, evaporation, inflows and stream flows, and so on) of those resources compared to how quickly they are being depleted or emptied
  • Ability to increase resource capacity (like building a new dam for example), or to generate fresh water (via desalination technology for example)
  • Ability to treat and re-use water, or to recycle water
  • The volume and capacity of available external/transboundary, and shared fresh water resources, can also be looked at – but, they cannot be relied upon like internal resources.

When there are limited available internal fresh water resources, or when the withdrawal or consumption rate (demand) is higher than the rate that those resources are being recharged/replenished, there is usually water quantity issues like high water stress, water scarcity and water shortages.

Read more about water quantity related issues like water availability, stress, scarcity, and shortage in this guide.

Different countries and cities/regions throughout the world may experiencing water quantity related issues, or may be forecast to suffer from any of these issues in the future.

Perth in Western Australia is an example of a city that has managed to address their water scarcity issues by securing drinking water in the short term. However, they are focussing on longer term sustainable strategies for non potable fresh water too

Cape Town in South Africa is an example of a city that experienced water scarcity and a water shortage event in recent years.

 

2. Quality Of Water

Quality of water refers to the condition of the water.

Fresh water resources must be of adequate quality for the potable or non potable end use. 

This means the water usually has to meet water quality guidelines or regulation requirements (such as the Clean Water Act) for drinking water (it has to be safe and clean), or pass specific types of water quality testing for non potable fresh water. 

Water that will be used for irrigation to grow crops in agriculture for example might be tested for specific quality standards.

Water pollutants and contaminants, as well as the water being saline or brackish can cause the water to be of poor quality for it’s end use.

There’s many types of pollutants and contaminants that be found in water, and different countries and cities around the world have different levels of, and causes for water pollution and contamination.

 

Solutions To Major Global Water Issues & Problems

1. Water Quantity

There are many potential solutions for addressing water quantity related issues. Some of these may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Increasing total fresh water supply capacity (one example is building another dam)
  • Impacting the replenishment rate of existing fresh water resources (by protecting natural landscapes and catchment areas as one example)
  • Generating new fresh water resources (via desalination for example)
  • Sustainably managing the withdrawal and consumption rate from existing water resources (there’s many ways to do this, such as water restrictions and sustainable water use policies) 
  • Using water more efficiently in the sectors that withdraw and consume the most water in society – especially irrigation in agriculture, and wet cooling at thermo electric power plants
  • Decreasing the amount of water lost to water leaks in public supply water pipes, and also in agriculture and industry
  • Addressing climate change (climate impacts rainfall and evaporation in the hydrologic cycle, as well inflows and streamflows to surface water sources, and percolating into ground water sources)

Solutions to water quantity issues can be addressed on the global, national (with national policy), State (with State policy), city, sector and individual levels. They may also be addressed in a shared way when cities share water resources for example.

 

2. Water Quality

Solutions to water quality problems involve:

  • Preventing water pollution and contamination
  • Cleaning up water pollution and contamination
  • And, testing and treating/purifying poor quality water to make it adequate quality for it’s end use
  • [it may also involve making sure public supply pipes are free from heavy metals and other compounds, and pipes and water infrastructure isn’t leaching into the water]

We’ve put together several guides on these topics:

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/words-phrases-to-describe-different-global-water-issues-what-they-mean/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-sanitation-hygiene-issues-specific-to-underdeveloped-developing-countries-regions/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-find-out-the-water-quality-of-freshwater-supply-sources-groundwater-lakes-rivers-etc-for-different-uses/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-scarcity-case-study-perth-western-australia-what-the-world-can-learn-from-perths-water-scarcity-problems-solutions/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/cape-town-water-shortage-case-study-causes-solutions-what-we-can-learn-for-future-water-crisis-events/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-pollution-causes-sources-examples-effects-prevention-solutions/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/countries-cities-with-the-most-water-pollution-contamination-worst-clean-water-supplies/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-find-out-the-water-quality-of-freshwater-supply-sources-groundwater-lakes-rivers-etc-for-different-uses/

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/drinking-water-quality-in-different-countries-cities-how-to-know-if-tap-water-is-safe-to-drink/

10. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-prevent-solve-water-pollution-contamination/

Water Scarcity vs Water Stress vs Water Shortage: Differences, Similarities & Definitions

Water Scarcity vs Water Stress vs Water Shortage: Differences, Similarities & Definitions

There can often be some confusion over the meaning of the phrases water scarcity, water stress and water shortage.

In this guide, we outline briefly what each means, and put them in context to each other and other phrases used to describe global water issues.

 

Water Stress vs Water Scarcity vs Water Shortage: Similarities

Global water issues might be grouped into three main categories – water quantity related issues, water quality related issues, and water access related issues.

Water stress, scarcity and shortage all mainly refer to water quantity related issues – specifically, a lack of water to meet the demands of a population with an area (although, a lack of water access can lead to a lack of water quantity too).

 

Water Stress vs Water Scarcity vs Water Shortage: Differences

We’ve outlined the differences below.

 

What Does Water Stress Mean?

Water stress is a sliding scale – countries, cities and regions can be highly water stressed, or experiencing very low water stress .

There’s several organisations that give indications of the different levels of water stress, expressing water stress as a the % of internal water resources vs water withdrawals.

Low water stress for example might be when withdrawals are less than 10% of internal fresh water resources annually. 

High water stress might be when withdrawals are between 40 to 80% of internal fresh water resources annually.

Read more in this guide for a more comprehensive description of what ‘water stress’ is, how it’s measured, and more.

 

What Does Water Scarcity Mean?

Water scarcity, or absolute water scarcity, is the point where extreme water stress is reached.

Pacinst for example describes water scarcity vs water stress as:

  • … [if] the amount of renewable water in a country is below 1,700 m3 per person per year, that country is said to be experiencing water stress; below 1,000 m3 it is said to be experiencing water scarcity; and below 500 m3, absolute water scarcity

Read more in this guide for a more comprehensive description of what ‘water scarcity’ is, the different ways it’s measured, and more.

 

What Does Water Shortage Mean?

Water shortage is often used to describe the same conditions as water scarcity. 

But, ‘water shortage’ is sometimes a phrase used to describe the extreme end of water scarcity where clean fresh water supplies are getting to low enough levels, extreme water restrictions have to be enforced, and municipal tap water may be getting to a point where they have to be turned off.

You can read a case study of the Cape Town water shortage in this guide.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-sanitation-hygiene-issues-specific-to-underdeveloped-developing-countries-regions/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/words-phrases-to-describe-different-global-water-issues-what-they-mean/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/cape-town-water-shortage-case-study-causes-solutions-what-we-can-learn-for-future-water-crisis-events/

Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped & Developing Countries & Regions

Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped & Developing Countries & Regions

Water and sanitation/hygiene issues can vary significantly between developed, and underdeveloped & developing parts of the world.

Three major issues that tend to be specific to underdeveloped or developing countries and regions include:

  • (Lack of) Access to safely managed and clean drinking water
  • (Lack of) Access to safely managed and basic sanitation and hygiene services
  • Open defecation

In this guide, we outline some of the important information and considerations for each of these issues.

* Note – underdeveloped and developing regions can also be more vulnerable to water related natural disasters such as floods, but natural disasters are outside the scope of this guide.

 

Summary – Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped Or Developing Countries & Regions

  • Some water issues are global. These issues centre around having adequate supplies of water to meet demand (water stress or water scarcity), and adequate water quality
  • But, some issues are specific to developing and underdeveloped regions of the world (which tend to be low and sometimes middle income areas and countries). These include lack of access to clean and safe drinking water, and lack of access to basic sanitation and hygiene services (with open defecation sometimes being a side effect of this)
  • The impact of these issues is obvious – serious human health (inadequate water and sanitation is the leading cause of diarrhoea globally, just as one example), economic and social effects. Young children in particular can be impacted by these issues
  • The main cause of these issues is low income and poverty (and in some cases, inadequate political or institutional investment in and management of water and sanitation services and infrastructure) 
  • The main solution is that these regions, and in particular rural parts of these regions, need external financial investment to help provide these basic services in the short term. In the long term, these regions need help developing economically so they can maintain and manage their own water and sanitation/hygiene services and infrastructure
  • Access to improved water sources increases with income (ourworldindata.org)
  • Similarly to improved water access, the provision of sanitation facilities tends to increase with income (ourworldindata.org)
  • Specific solutions to access drinking water might include adequate quality drinking water that comes from a protected source, and is delivered to where people live (so they don’t have to travel to collect their drinking water)
  • Specific solutions to access to basic sanitation and hygiene might include a protected toilet or latrine that prevents contact of excretion from human skin, disposal and waste collection and management services, feminine hygiene services, and taps and soap to wash hands

 

Other notes …

  • Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and The Pacific, & South Asia are some of the regions in the world with the most people who lack access to improved drinking water sources, or protected drinking water sources
  • Over 90% of people worldwide without access to improved sanitation facilities live in Asia, the Pacific or Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 15 percent of the world’s population were still practicing open defecation, with rates being highest in South Asia (India in particular), and Sub Saharan Africa

 

Explaining The (Lack Of) Access To Safely Managed & Clean Drinking Water Issue

The Problem

  • People lack access to protected drinking water services that is safe to drink, and that is delivered to where they live
  • Beyond that, just because a water source has been improved, it doesn’t mean it is fully clean or safe to drink (so, quality of water, as well as access to that water, is a problem)

 

Where It Happens Most

  • Access [to clean drinking water] in 2015 remains lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where rates typically range from 40 to 80 percent of households. 
  • The number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa without access to an improved water source has increased from 271 million in 2990, to 326 million in 2015. 
  • To put these numbers in context, almost half of people drinking water from unprotected sources worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa, and eight in 10 live in rural areas.
  • East Asia and The Pacific make up 133 million, and South Asia also makes up 133 million. 

– OurWorldInData.org

 

The Causes

  • Poverty and low income
  • Inadequate protected drinking water infrastructure, or no infrastructure at all
  • Inadequate political and institutional management of water services
  • Being in a rural area as opposed to an urban area
  • Water pollution and contamination

 

The Effects

  • Diseases and human health problems – malnutrition, [and in the case of contaminated water] higher rates of transmission of infectious diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio (OurWorldInData.org). 
  • Death & higher mortality rates – particularly with children. The WHO estimates that in 2015, the deaths of 361,000 children under 5-years-old could have been avoided by addressing water and sanitation risk factors (WHO/OurWorldInData.org). Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 502 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year (WHO.int)
  • More public health problems and investment – water related problems lead to public health problems that have to be addressed
  • Slower economic growth, increased poverty, and more socio economic decline – water is used for almost everything in society and the economy, so, when there is a lack of access, work and other areas of the economy and society suffer. Women and children in particular spend 258 million hours every day worldwide collecting water. This is time spent not working, caring for family members or attending school (Water.org)
  • Decreased safety – where people have to walk long distances to get their water. Women and children especially are at risk
  • Decreased education rates – if children have to spend time walking to obtain water from a water source far away from their home
  • Other socio economic effects

 

Trends

Overall, access to improved water sources is increasing across the world.

 

Per OurWorldInData.org:

  • Access to improved water sources is increasing across the world overall, rising from 76 percent of the global population in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015.
  • The share of rural households with improved water sources was lower than the total population in 2015, with 85 percent access. 
  • Globally 97 percent of urban households had improved water access, with most nations now having close to 100 percent penetration.

 

Per WHO.int, in 2018:

  • In 2015, 71% of the global population (5.2 billion people) used a safely managed drinking-water service – that is, one located on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination.
  • 89% of the global population (6.5 billion people) used at least a basic service. A basic service is an improved drinking-water source within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.
  • 844 million people lack even a basic drinking-water service, including 159 million people who are dependent on surface water.
  • Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, 38% of health care facilities lack an improved water source, 19% do not have improved sanitation, and 35% lack water and soap for handwashing.

 

Also per WHO.int:

  • 1.3 billion people with basic services, meaning an improved water source located within a round trip of 30 minutes
  • 263 million people with limited services, or an improved water source requiring more than 30 minutes to collect water
  • 423 million people taking water from unprotected wells and springs
  • 159 million people collecting untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

 

Per WHO/UNICEF, via the theguardian.com. In 2015:

  • 663 million people – one in 10 – still drank water from unprotected sources (a protected source protects against contamination, whereas an unprotected one doesn’t).
  • In 41 countries, a fifth of people drink water from a source that is not protected from contamination
  • In most countries, the majority of people spend less than 30 minutes collecting water, or have a piped supply within their home. But in some regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, many people spend more than 30 minutes – and some more than an hour – on each trip to collect water. This burden still falls mainly on women and girls – they are responsible for this task in eight in 10 households that don’t have a piped supply.
  • Mongolia is the only country where men and boys have primary responsibility for collecting water
  • In many parts of the world, water isn’t available all day everyday. In some provinces of South Africa, water supply in 60% of households has been interrupted for two days or more. In South Africa in 2014, a fifth of households with municipal piped water had interruptions that lasted for more than two days. This was three times higher in some regions of the country. Few countries have water available continuously, but in many parts of the world a less than 24-hour supply is still considered sufficient. Countries use a wide range of different measures to assess availability and these must match up so that comparisons of service levels can be made across countries and over time.
  • The cost of drinking water and sanitation is different in different countries – In Tanzania, 10% of the population spend more than 5% of their expenditure on drinking water

 

How To Address (Lack Of) Access To Safely Managed & Clean Drinking Water

  • Financial investment in drinking water infrastructure for extraction, treatment and purification, transport and delivery in regions with the the highest rates of lack of access to safely managed and clean drinking water
  • Ensure water is continuously tested and monitored to ensure it’s safe to drink and that the quality of the water meets safe water guidelines and regulations
  • Address other contributing factors such as reducing poverty, reducing water pollution and contamination 
  • Ensure clean drinking water can be accessed all day, and not just intermittently or only for a limited number of hours in the day
  • Ensure drinking water is affordable for all individuals

 

Can aim for all regions throughout the world to have improved drinking water sources:

  • “An improved drinking water source includes piped water on premises (piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard), and other improved drinking water sources (public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collection).

– WorldBank, & UNICEF/WHO, via OurWorldInData.org

 

Can aim for all regions throughout the world to have safe water that meets a certain quality:

  • Some [water] sources protect against contamination, but it still might not be safe to drink the water.
  • To be considered “safe”, a source of drinking water must be free from pathogens and high levels of harmful substances. Globally, the main health concern is faecal contamination, which is identified by the presence of bacteria such as E.coli.
  • In many places, a water point is designed to protect against contamination, but the water from it might still have traces of E.coli – the groundwater may be contaminated by faulty latrines, or the containers people use to carry and store water may contain traces of the bacteria.
  • In Nepal, 91% of the population drink from an improved water source, but E.coli has still been detected.
  • [So, improved drinking water sources need to be monitored for quality and contamination/pollution too]

– WHO/UNICEF, via the theguardian.com

 

According to OurWorldInData.org:

  • Access to improved water sources generally increases with income of the country

 

Sometimes, there are emergency responses required in some countries such as Yemen, where conflict has contributed to water shortages. Organisations like UNICEF has help re-establish water reserves, along with helped in providing other emergency water and sanitation services (borgenproject.org)

 

Explaining The (Lack of) Access To Safely Managed & Basic Sanitation & Hygiene Services Issue

The Problem

  • A lack of access to improved sanitation conditions or facilities to dispose of human waste safely and hygienically

Unimproved sanitation facilities include flush or pour–flush to elsewhere, pit latrine without slab or open pit, bucket, hanging toilet or hanging latrine, or no facilities or bush or field.

 

Types Of Sanitation

According to Wikiprogress.org:

  • Basic sanitation – refers to the management of human feces at the household level. Basic sanitation is the same as improved sanitation. This is facilities that ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. They include:
    • Flush or pour-flush toilet/latrine to a piped sewer system, a septic tank or a pit latrine.
    • Ventilated improved pit latrine.
    • Pit latrine with slab.
    • Composting toilet.
  • On-site sanitation – the collection and treatment of waste is done where it is deposited. Examples are the use of pit latrines, septic tanks, and Imhoff tanks.

 

Where It Happens Most

From OurWorldInData.org: 

  • Of the total number of people without access to improved sanitation facilities by region, over 90 percent of those without access in 2015 resided in Asia, the Pacific or Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The largest region share was from South Asia, accounting for 40 percent and nearly one billion without access. This was followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with nearly 30 percent (706 million), and East Asia & Pacific with around 22 percent (520 million).
  • There remains large inequalities in levels of access to improved sanitation across the countries in the world
  • In 2015, the total share of the population with access to improved sanitation across Europe, North America, North Africa and some of Latin America is typically greater than 90 percent (and in most cases between 99 and 100 percent).
  • Between 80 and 90 percent of households in Latin America and the Caribbean have improved sanitation.
  • Access is slightly lower across Central and East Asia, typically between 70 and 80 percent.
  • In South Asia, progress has been varied. Sri Lanka has achieved a 95 percent access rate; Pakistan and Bangladesh both have access of over 60 percent; whereas India lags behind in this regard with just under 40 percent.
  • Regionally, access is lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where most countries have less than 40 percent access rates.
  • In South Sudan, only 6-7 percent of the population had improved sanitation in 2015.
  • Within each country, rural areas generally have less access to sanitation than urban areas

 

  • [rural areas compared to urban areas tend to have a lower share of sanitation facilities]

 

The Causes

  • Poverty and low income
  • Inadequate sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services, or no infrastructure and services at all
  • Inadequate political and institutional management of water services
  • Lack of access to basic water services (water is required for sanitation and hygiene services)
  • Being in a rural area as opposed to an urban area

 

The Effects

  • Human health problems – higher rates of the transmission of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. This is particularly the case with contaminated water and when there is a lack of water for proper sanitation (OurWorldInData.org)
  • Death and higher mortality rates – particularly with children. The WHO estimates that in 2015, the deaths of 361,000 children under 5-years-old could have been avoided by addressing water and sanitation risk factors (WHO/OurWorldInData.org)
  • + socio economic effects

 

Some more findings from OurWorldInData.org & WHO on the impacts are:

  • There are a number of important contributing factors to child mortality, including nutrition, healthcare and other living standards … But, in countries where open defecation is greater than 10 percent, typically more than 20 children per 1,000 die before their 5th birthday.
  • Contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation facilities and open defecation contribute to the transmission of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, and can also have severe impacts on malnutrition.
  • Stunting — determined as having a height which falls below the median height-for-age WHO Child Growth Standards — is a sign of chronic malnutrition … [but is also linked to poor sanitation and hygiene]

 

Other stats and findings on the effects of lack of sanitation according to Worldvision.com.au are:

  • Poor water and sanitation is the leading cause of diarrhoea, which is the second biggest cause of death among children under five, killing 760,000 each year 
  • Poor water and sanitation can severely erode health and wellbeing gains made by food and nutrition programs
  • Illness and time spent collecting water also reduces school attendance and adults’ capacity to work and earn income. A 2012 World Bank study of 18 African countries found they lose 1-2.5 percent of GDP – around US$5.5 billion – every year due to poor sanitation
  • 272 school days are lost each year due to water related diseases
  • 80% of childhood disease is related in some way to unsafe drinking water, inadequate hygiene and poor sanitation

 

And according to UN.org, Every 20 seconds a child dies as a result of poor sanitation.

 

Uniteforsight.org discusses a case study of lack of sanitation in Cape Town settlements – http://www.uniteforsight.org/urban-health/module4#_ftn2

 

Trends

In the last three decades (since 1990), 29 percent of the global population gained access to sanitation. But, in 2015, 2.39 billion still lack access to basic sanitation

 

From OurWorldInData.org (which has great charts and data on access to sanitation and open defecation + water access):

  • The total number of people without access to improved sanitation has remained almost constant from 1990 to 2015: in 1990 this figure was 2.49 billion, and in 2015 it reduced to 2.39 billion.
  • Total world population has of course grown in total though over this period
  • This means the % of the population without access has decreased (which is an improvement)
  • This population growth also means the total number with access has increased from 2.8 billion in 1990 to nearly 5 billion in 2015.
  • From 1990-2015, a share of 29 percent of the global population gained access to sanitation.
  • But, share of people gaining access to improved sanitation is growing at different rates in different countries and regions and better effort needs to be made that countries and areas lagging behind are helped out

 

In 2018, according to WHO.int:

  • In low- and middle-income countries, 19% do not have improved sanitation, and 35% lack water and soap for handwashing.

 

From Worldvision.com.au – 844 million people lack access to safe water, while 2.5 billion people live without improved sanitation.

 

WHO.int have a good fact sheet on access to sanitation and open defecation – http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation 

 

How To Address(Lack of) Access To Safely Managed & Basic Sanitation & Hygiene Services 

Potential ways to increase access to improved sanitation and decrease open defecation are:

  • To develop, invest in and aid low income/low GDP countries economically so they can afford new water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure, and so they can maintain it. This would involve improved sanitation services (including toilets and latrines for individual families, and eliminating shared toilets for families, feminine hygiene services, and the ability to wash and soap hands), as well as the ability to dispose of, treat, and manage human waste safely and effectively with sewage and waste services.
  • According to the United Nations World Health Organization (2014), every dollar invested in water and sanitation results in a $4.30 return in the form of reduced healthcare costs (Worldvision.com.au)
  • Place specific focus on rural areas who lag in both sanitation and open defecation rates

 

Worldbank.org says:

  • “Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year. A fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today, this is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

 

  • An example of an organisation helping with the sanitation issue is UNICEF. UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team works in over 100 countries worldwide to improve water and sanitation services, as well as basic hygiene practices.
  • In one year, UNICEF’s efforts provided nearly 14 million people with clean water and over 11 million with basic toilets.

– UNICEF.org 

 

An aim for areas with a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene services is to provide improved sanitation.

An improved sanitation facility is defined as a facility that:

  • “… hygienically separates human excreta from human contact. They include flush/pour flush (to piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine), ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilet.”

Improved sanitation facilities range from simple but protected pit latrines to flush toilets with a sewage connection. To be effective, facilities must be correctly constructed and properly maintained.

– WorldBank & WHO/UNICEF, via OurWorldInData.org

 

  • The word ‘sanitation’ also refers to the maintenance of hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal. 

– Wikiprogress.org

 

Explaining The Open Defecation Issue

The Problem

  • Defecating in the open – in places such as fields, forests, beaches, open bodies of water, and so on. 

 

Where It Happens Most

According to UN.org, in 2011, 1.04 billion people still practiced open defecation. 

 

From OurWorldInData.org:

  • In 2015, 15 percent of the world’s population were still practicing open defecation, presenting a reduction of approximately half since 1990
  • Prevalence was highest in South Asia where the average share is 36 percent. India in particular still has high rates, with nearly 45 percent still using open defecation.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, this rate was 23 percent. However, some countries in particular — such as Niger, Chad, South Sudan and Eritrea — still have a prevalence between 60-80 percent.
  • [open defecation is mainly a rural issues] … Open defecation in urban areas is typically below 20 percent of the population. For rural populations, however, the share of the population practicing open defecation can range from less than 20 percent to almost 90 percent. 

 

The Causes

  • Lack of access to basic waste disposal facilities and systems like toilets.

 

The Effects

  • In particular with open defecation, this can increase the rate of pathogens, toxins, nitrates and phosphates in the environment and harm the natural environment and ecosystem

 

Trends

  • The number of people practicing open defecation fell from 20 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2015

– wikipedia.org

 

How To Address Open Defecation

  • The solution is the same as the other issues – there needs to be a provision of improved sanitation and hygiene services
  • Low income regions need external financing to do this in the short term, and in the long term, need assistance growing their economies and income to be able to manage services and infrastructure themselves

 

Sources

1. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018) – “Water Access, Resources & Sanitation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/water-access-resources-sanitation’ [Online Resource]

2. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

3. https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/

4. http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation

5. https://data.unicef.org/topic/water-and-sanitation/drinking-water/

6. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/mar/03/access-water

7. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/17/access-to-drinking-water-world-six-infographics

8. https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water_stats

9. https://washdata.org/

10. https://washdata.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/2018-01/JMP-2017-report-final.pdf

11. https://ourworldindata.org/sanitation

12. https://ourworldindata.org/water-access

13. https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/work-we-do/water-sanitation

14. http://wikiprogress.org/articles/health/access-to-sanitation/

15. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/sanitation.shtml

16. http://www.who.int/topics/sanitation/en/

17. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2017/08/28/millions-around-the-world-held-back-by-poor-sanitation-and-lack-of-access-to-clean-water

18. https://www.unicef.org/wash/

19. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation

20. http://www.uniteforsight.org/urban-health/module4#_ftn2

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_defecation#Prevalence_and_trends

22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_issues_in_developing_countries

23. https://borgenproject.org/most-water-scarce-countries/

Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Aluminum vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Aluminum vs Plastic Comparison)

This guide outlines whether aluminum is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

It is a fairly short guide, as many of the sustainability considerations comparing metals and plastic we already outlined in this guide.

 

Summary – Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Refer to the linked guide above for the general sustainability of metals like stainless steel vs plastic
  • Some sustainability consideration of aluminum in particular can be found below
  • Note – aluminum can be used in a range of products and items such as bottles, cans, containers, windows and doors, and more

 

Aluminum vs Plastic: Comparison

The sustainability of aluminum bottles (vs. plastic bottles):

  • Aluminum comes from bauxite – depletion is not really a major issue
  • Aluminum production is one of the most energy intensive industries – even more intensive than stainless steel production
  • Using recycling aluminum cans instead of raw material uses ‘five percent of the energy and generates five percent of the emissions’ ( carbon emissions are 96% less)
  • Aluminum has a high recycling rate as a material compared to plastic
  • There can be concerns around the lining of aluminum cans and bottles – it may contain BPA like plastic does
  • Aluminum as a material used in bottles or cans may have a higher carbon footprint than glass, plastic, and tetra pak
  • Aluminum may degrade quicker than plastic 

– bettermeetsreality.com

 

Plastic vs metal packaging:

  • Overall, plastic tends to be more environmentally as packaging over a range of eco indicators compared to metal and other materials
  • Aluminium is abundant as a resource
  • Plastic uses a fraction of energy in production that aluminum and tin do
  • When the production process for each is compared it is found that 1 kg of Polyethylene plastics produce around 4 kg CO2 and 1 kg aluminum produces 10.63 kg CO2 
  • Plastic takes far longer to break down compared to aluminum
  • Aluminum doesn’t have all the leaching and environmental issues (like breaking into micro plastics) that plastic does
  • ‘In 2009 the EU had a recycling rate of 72% for tin and aluminum – compared to 9% of all plastic is recycled in the US]
  • ‘When tin and aluminum are recycled it allows for less new metal to be extracted from their ores. This reduces the amount of energy used annually on the production of aluminum and tinplate packaging. Due to this large recycling effort the amount of CO2 created in the production process is only 1/3 of what it would be if new ore were being continually extracted’

– desjardin.fr

 

Aluminum windows and doors:

  • Aluminum is durable 
  • Aluminum is abundant as a resource, and endlessly recyclable
  • ‘55% of world aluminium production is powered by renewable hydroelectric power’ (as opposed to fossil fuel powered production processes)

– duration.co.uk

 

Benefits of recycling aluminum:

  • Today, recycling of post-consumer aluminium products saves over 90 million tonnes of CO2 and over 100,000 GWh of electrical energy, equivalent to the annual power consumption of the Netherlands.
  • [The fact that aluminum is infinitely recyclable] has led to a situation where today around 75% of the almost one billion tonnes of aluminium ever produced is still in productive use

– recycling.world-aluminium.org

 

Aluminum consumption and recycling:

  • Although recycling aluminum reduces energy requirements, we should also be focussing on reducing consumption too because ‘recycled aluminum creates the demand for more virgin aluminum and more environmental destruction’ 
  • Aluminum takes approximately ‘13,500 to 17,000 kWh per ton’ to make
  • Recycling aluminum isn’t 100% eco friendly – ‘[there are] alloys that have to be removed using chemicals like chlorine; there are fumes and chemical releases that are toxic’
  • One problem for the future is that there is not enough recycled aluminum to meet demand
  • Aluminum mining (of bauxite) can be destructive, and then bauxite has to be shipped to another country

– treehugger.com

 

Aluminum sustainability:

  • ‘Aluminum has 20 percent smaller life cycle energy consumption than steel in transportation’
  • In the last 40 years, energy requirements to product aluminum, and the carbon footprint, are both improving
  • Aluminum is generally a green building material

– aluminum.org

 

  • Through the recycling process it saves 95% of the energy that it would cost to produce new aluminum 

– azahner.com

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of aluminum. Each different type of aluminum can have a different sustainability footprint (depending on how it’s processed, fabricated, etc.)
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long an aluminum product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • There are different types of aluminum products with different sustainability footprints, such as aluminum cans for soda and alcohol … or for building materials like aluminum vs plastic window frames (which have a much longer lifespan). Specifically with aluminum vs plastic frames, there can be considerations to do with insulation and energy efficiency.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.duration.co.uk/AluminiumSustainability.asp

3. http://recycling.world-aluminium.org/review/sustainability/

4. https://www.aluminum.org/aluminum-sustainability

5. https://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/recycling-aluminum-good-thing-right.html

6. https://www.desjardin.fr/en/blog/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs.-metals-which-is-better

7. https://www.azahner.com/blog/metal-sustainability

Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Stainless Steel vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Stainless Steel vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether stainless steel is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

It is a fairly short guide, as many of the sustainability considerations comparing metals and plastic we already outlined in this guide.

 

Summary – Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Refer to the linked guide above for the general sustainability of metals like stainless steel vs plastic
  • Some sustainability consideration of SS in particular can be found below

 

Stainless Steel vs Plastic: Comparison

Stainless steel and SS bottles:

  • The production of SS can use more fossil fuels, release more GHGs, and demand the extraction of more metal resources compared to plastic bottles. It also involves air, water and soil pollution
  • Recycled iron used in stainless steel can reduce the eco impact of stainless steel bottles
  • SS is 100% recyclable, and SS is recycled with high recycling rates
  • SS doesn’t damage the soil or water if it becomes litter or it is disposed of in landfill sites
  • SS bottles may have leaching issues though if made with aluminum, or if they aren’t lead free food grade SS material. Some SS bottles also include plastic liners inside – so watch for htat
  • Cold water washing a SS bottle over it’s lifetime may be more eco friendly than hot water washing in a dishwasher for example
  • Re-using a SS bottle 500 times may mean that bottle beats a plastic bottle across many environmental indicators

– bettermeetsreality.com

 

Environmental aspects of stainless steel:

  • Stainless steel products are designed to have a long lifespan
  • Alloying elements chromium, nickel and molybdenum can be recovered from stainless steel in the recovery/recycling process
  • Approximately 60% on average of a new stainless steel product is made of recycled material (as an estimate). This is includes both old scrap and new scrap (along with new raw materials that are added)
  • Stainless steel rarely has damaging effects in a landfill
  • The use of SS can also lead to reduction in the use of fossil fuels, improvements in air quality, keeping water clean, the reduction of waste, and other environmental benefits

– bssa.org.uk

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of stainless steel. Each different type of stainless steel can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a stainless steel product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Whether the stainless steel is recycled material can also make a difference to sustainability

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.bssa.org.uk/sectors.php?id=99#recycling

Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Metal vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Metal vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether metal is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Whether metal is more sustainable than plastic depends on the type of metal that is being compared with plastic (aluminum, stainless steel, etc.). It also depends on the item or product in question, the company that makes it, and other factors.
  • But, some general sustainability considerations might be:
  • 1. Sourcing Materials – both metal and plastic are mined from non renewable resources, but, common metals tend to be fairly abundant. Additionally, metals tend to have a far higher recycling rate than plastic and can be recycled infinitely – meaning that metal doesn’t always need to use virgin materials like some plastics might. 
  • 2. Production – metals tend to have a higher production footprint than plastic, especially with energy use.
  • 3. Transport & Delivery – plastic tend to be a lighter material than most materials, and might have a lower delivery/transport/freight footprint than some heavier metals.
  • 4. Waste Management & Recycling – metals can be used infinitely recycled, and have a far higher recycling rate than most plastics (which some say justifies the higher production footprint and energy use). Once plastic can’t be recycled anymore, it has to be downcycled, sent to landfill, or incinerated.
  • 5. Pollution, & Impact On Humans, Animals & The Environment – the potential issues plastic creates from a litter, human health, wild life, and environmental perspective, are probably greater than metal. Plastic is a heavily polluted material, contains additives and chemicals like BPA that may be a concern for humans (although metal drink bottles can contain chemicals that can leach as well), can be ingested by or entangle wild life, and creates other potential issues in the ocean, in rivers and on land. Micro plastics can also be an issue.
  • Overall, plastic has some advantages in terms of production and possible transport footprint. But, metal seems more abundant, can be recycled infinitely, and doesn’t seem to create the range of pollution or other issues that plastic might. At the very least, metal seems like a more circular material that can contribute to a circular economy compared to plastic. 
  • But, it depends on the life cycle stage and the sustainability indicator as to which material might be better in what regard.
  • Consumer behavior can also come into the equation – reusable water bottles made from metal for example may need to be re-used several hundred times before it’s sustainability rating matches or exceeds that of a plastic drink bottle. So, there are variables.

 

Examples Of Products With Metal & Plastic Options

  • Furniture (tables, chairs, beds, etc.)
  • Food & Beverage Goods (drink bottles, food containers and lunch boxes, etc.)
  • Building/Construction Materials

 

Metal vs Plastic: Comparison

  • Sourcing Of Materials – the sourcing of metal and plastic requires mining of finite materials – metal ores and fossil fuels. Common metal ores are generally abundant, whilst there is debate over the scarcity of fossil fuels (although it is agreed they are non renewable). Something to note though is that metal tends to have a far higher recycling rate. Theoretically, this may mean the rate at which we need to mine and extract metals into the future may even out or decrease, as long as demand for metal doesn’t keep increasing. For example, steel and aluminum furniture is likely already made of recycled content (inhabitat.com). It is estimated that ‘[when metals like aluminum and tin are recycled] … the amount of CO2 created in the production process is only 1/3 of what it would be if new ore were being continually extracted’ (desjardin.fr). Other estimates say ‘through the recycling process it saves 95% of the energy that it would cost to produce new aluminum’ (azahner.com)
  • Production – steel and plastic both use energy and resources in the production stage. Some sources indicate in some countries, metal production uses more energy than plastic. Using recycled metal material can reduce the sourcing and production footprint of metal products somewhat. Even though plastic production has some very negative production requirements, when compared to the production of tin and aluminum containers it only uses a fraction of the energy … When the production process for each is compared it is found that 1 kg of Polyethylene plastics produce around 4 kg CO2 and 1 kg aluminum produces 10.63 kg CO2 (desjardin.fr)
  • Delivery & Transport – some metals are heavier than plastic, so, it may have a higher delivery/transport footprint from increased fuel use. Plastic may also be more space efficient because of it’s properties.
  • Usage – metal can be more durable than some plastics, adding to the lifecycle duration of metal products.
  • Waste Management & Recycling – in most countries, metal has a far higher recycling rate than plastic. For example, ‘steel produced by predominantly scrap-fed electric-arc furnaces accounted for more than 60% of the total raw steel produced in the United States in 2013’ (theguardian.com), and, ‘More steel is recycled each year than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined’ (azahner.com), and, ‘By volume, copper is the third most recycled metal following steel and aluminum’ (azahner.com). Additionally, metal can be recycled infinitely, whereas plastic can only be recycled a certain amount of times before having to be downcycled.
  • Pollution – plastic is usually responsible for far more pollution (via littering and inadequately disposed of waste) at the end of material life cycle stage.
  • Degradationplastic usually takes far longer than metal to degrade in the environment.
  • Impact On Humans – plastic can impact humans in a number of ways – leaching of BPA and other chemicals, ingestion and inhalation of micro plastics and so on. That is not to say that products like stainless steel and aluminum drink bottles don’t have their own potential leaching issues.
  • Impact On Wild Life & Environment – plastic tends to have more potential for negative impact on wild life and the environment via ingestion and entanglement in plastics. Micro plastics can also play a role, as well as leaching of plastic additives into aquatic environments.
  • Metal vs Plastic Furniture – metal may win out over plastic furniture in health, and lifecycle, reuse and recyclability indicators (inhabitat.com). Micro plastics in the air indoors that humans may inhale are also more closely linked to plastic furniture and textiles.
  • Metal vs Plastic Bottlessingle use plastic bottles heavily contribute to waste and pollution problems. Metal bottles can be more sustainable than plastic bottles, but they usually need to be re-used over a longer period in order for their production footprint to average out to match plastic bottles.
  • Metal vs Plastic Packaging Items – Plastic packaging more sustainable across a range of environmental indicators compared to steel and aluminum … [and, using metal would result in a significant net negative environmental impact in the case of carrier bags, caps and closures, beverage containers, stretch and shrink film, other rigid packaging and other flexible packaging] (packaginginsights.com)

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

The Sustainability Of Specific Metals

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of metal. Each different type of metal can have a different sustainability footprint (depending on how it’s extracted, refined, fabricated etc.)
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a metal product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Whether the metal product uses recycled material or not impacts sustainability
  • Although there are general sustainability factors to consider with metal and plastic, the size, weight and other features of an item or product can impact sustainability too. One material might be less eco friendly than the other per gram for example, but if the final product it’s used in is lighter than the same product made with another material, that product can have a better sustainability footprint even if the material itself isn’t as sustainable.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/6896/wood-vs-plastic-vs-metal-furniture-and-other-items-is-the-wood-product-genera

3. https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-forests-furniture/ditch-metal-and-plastic-and-turn-to-wood-to-save-the-planet-says-u-n-idUSL8N1A63B3

4. https://inhabitat.com/materials-smackdown-what-is-green-furniture-is-made-from/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

6. https://www.packaginginsights.com/news/Plastics-the-most-environmentally-friendly-packaging-material-concludes-new-US-study.html

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-it-takes-for-different-materials-everyday-items-to-break-down-degrade/

8. https://www.desjardin.fr/en/blog/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs.-metals-which-is-better

9. https://tinwaredirect.com/blogs/tips-advice/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs-metals

10. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jan/29/plastic-industry-recycling-learn-from-steel-circular-economy

11. https://www.azahner.com/blog/metal-sustainability

Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Wood vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Wood vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether wood is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Ultimately, whether wood is more sustainable than plastic depends on the application it is being used for, and how it’s sourced, produced and managed on a product or item case by case basis. For example, they might be used as raw or treated building materials, or they may be further fabricated to make furniture and other processed items
  • But, general sustainability consideration for wood vs plastic might be:
  • 1. Sourcing Of Materials – wood comes from a natural and renewable resource, which can also be sourced from sustainably managed stock trees (FSC certification is one example of a sustainably sourced certification). Plastic on the other hand is a synthetic material sourced from fossil fuel feed stock
  • 2. Production – wood may come out ahead in several environmental indicators (such as energy consumption and carbon footprint) compared to plastic in the production stage. Although, there may be some indicators where plastic is more eco friendly in the production process depending on the wood it is being compared to
  • 3. Transport and Delivery – plastic may have a lesser eco footprint when it comes to transport and delivery because it tends to be a far lighter material (comparing the weight of a hard plastic item to a solid wood or timber item)
  • 4. Waste Management – wood is an organic material that has greater potential for re-use and recycling compared to most plastics
  • 5. Pollution – wood is biodegradable and when it becomes waste, it has less potential to create problems associated with pollution. Plastic is not biodegradable, takes a long time to break down, and causes other issues in the environment as mismanaged waste
  • Overall, wood looks like the more sustainable material. However, finished wood products with other materials added like metal and plastic trimming, glues, varnishes etc., have a significantly higher eco footprint [than just wood or timber by itself] (sustainability.stackexchange.com)
  • Note that wood pulp is also used for the production of paper, which we compared to plastic in this guide. Paper has a different sustainability footprint to raw wood, as paper mills are known to not be very eco friendly

 

Examples Of Products With Wood & Plastic Options

  • Building Materials
  • Furniture (chair, bed, table, bench, etc.)
  • Flooring (timber flooring vs vinyl flooring made from PVC)
  • + More

 

Wood vs Plastic: Comparison

  • Sourcing Of Materials – wood comes from trees, which are a renewable natural resource. Trees can be sustainably grown and managed as tree stock. Plastic comes from natural gas and crude oil non renewable fossil fuel feedstock.
  • Production – Wood can be fairly energy efficient in production compared to metal and plastic. Most of the energy used in timber production especially comes in drying the timber (fwpa.com.au). Materials such as concrete, plastic or aluminium, require a lot of energy from fossil fuels to produce compared to timber (reuters.com). Trees also absorb carbon. In addition, there is very little waste when wooden products are made, whether it’s floorboards, furniture, doors, or something else entirely. Any residual chippings can be burned as an energy source, or used as sawdust during manufacture (greenne.com)
  • Delivery & Transport – wood is usually heavier than plastic, which might make delivering and transporting it more expensive, and use more fuel and have a higher carbon footprint. It may also be less space efficient.
  • Usage – it would be interesting to compare the eco impact of the U value or insulation value of timber vs uPVC vs aluminum window frames. But, we couldn’t find any exact figures. It is noted though that the cellular makeup of wood means that it naturally retains heat more effectively than other materials (greenne.com)
  • Waste Management & Recycling -] Timber mills make use of] The entire tree … Bark is removed and used for mulch and decorative landscaping. First cuts and unusable board feet are recovered or culled for use in engineered wood products. Board ends are cut up and sold as hobby wood. Sawdust and shavings are packaged for animal bedding. In some mills, scrap wood is even used to produce energy or steam to keep the mill and kilns running (ironwoods.com). The incineration of timber for energy production can be regarded as CO2 neutral (sustainability.stackexchange.com). In addition, wood is usually able to be upcycled, salvaged, and reclaimed easily from timber mills (used for secondary applications such as mulching and used for landscaping for example, or, off cuts can be used for other uses). Using recycled wood in construction and then burning it as fuel could lead to a reduction in carbon emissions by up to 135 million tonnes a year (reuters.com). Of the approximate 70m tons of wood sent to landfill annually, the US government estimates 30m tons of it could have been reused [and there is potential to reclaim more wood from house remodelling and demolition than what we currently do] (theguardian.com). Plastic can be incinerated, but plastic also usually has a low recycling rate (as low as 9% of total plastic is recycled in some major countries).
  • Pollution – plastic pollution (in the ocean and on land in soil and rivers) is currently a far bigger issue than pollution from wood or timber.
  • Impact On Humans – the potential negative impact of plastic on humans and human health is more significant than wood (additives in plastic like BPA for example is one concern). Micro plastics in the air indoors that humans may inhale are also more closely linked to plastic furniture and textiles.
  • Impact On Wild Life & Environment – plastic, via ingestion and entanglement and leaching of chemicals, probably has a worser impact on wild life than wood. Although, you have to make sure wood doesn’t come from ‘illegal logging or irresponsible deforestation’ (reuters.com)
  • Durability – both materials can last a long time, but hardwood in particular can last up to 100 years as a door (greenne.com)
  • Cost/Economy – both materials are reasonably affordable. Wood can beat out plastic for some product though – ‘Wooden pallets are often less expensive to acquire than plastic pallets, and they are usually able to be used for more extended periods of time’ (palletone.com)
  • Wood vs Plastic In Building, Furniture & Other Applications – Wood is more favorable than most other material substitutes when it comes to global warming potential of different materials in construction and furniture (sustainability.stackexchange.com). Other studies also show wood as being one of the most eco friendly materials across various measures/indicators for building materials, furniture, TV units, window frames, and other applications (fwpa.com.au). Furniture, floors and doors made out of wood require less energy to produce than aluminium or plastic, and on top of that wood continues to store carbon for years … Carbon stored by wood products offsets nearly all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to their production (reuters.com). Wood is by far the superior choice for building in all categories: total energy used to build, occupy, and dispose of; air and water emissions produced during manufacturing; solid waste generated in production and recovery; greenhouse gases produced during manufacturing; ecological resource use (ironwoods.com). In the ironwoods.com resource link below, they have two good tables comparing wood and plastic across various eco and performance indicators

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of wood. Each different type of wood (and wood material, product or item) can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • Whether or not the wood product is made of recycled wood can make a difference. So does salvaging wood where possible
  • How long a wood product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Sourcing wood from sustainably managed wood stock makes a difference in terms of sustainability – sustainability certification helps in this regard.
  • Wood based products can come made with other materials like glues, plastics, metal, finishes & treatments, etc – all these additional materials and substances can change the sustainability footprint of a wood product (sustainability.stackexchange.com)

 

Sources

1. https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/6896/wood-vs-plastic-vs-metal-furniture-and-other-items-is-the-wood-product-genera

2. https://inhabitat.com/materials-smackdown-whats-greener-wood-metal-or-plastic/

3. https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-forests-furniture/ditch-metal-and-plastic-and-turn-to-wood-to-save-the-planet-says-u-n-idUSL8N1A63B3

4. http://www.greenne.com/wood-environmentally-friendly-choice/

5. https://www.palletone.com/why-wood-is-the-most-sustainable-and-durable-material-for-pallets/

6. http://ironwoods.com/woods-vs-plastics/

7. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/recycled-wood-green-sustainable-built-environment

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-paper-more-sustainable-than-plastic-comparison/

9. https://www.fwpa.com.au/images/marketaccess/PN03.2103%20furniture%20review%20WEB.pdf

10. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Cardboard vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Cardboard vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether cardboard is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • We already put together a guide on the sustainability of paper compared to plastic, but this guide focuses specifically on cardboard
  • Some of the main sustainability considerations for cardboard and plastic might be:
  • 1. Cardboard is sourced from renewable wood pulp (processed into Kraft paper), or recycled cardboard material (cardboard has a high recycling rate). Plastic on the other hand is sourced from non renewable fossil fuels
  • 2. The production process of card board may actually be less environmentally friendly than plastic, as paper mills are historically known for their water and energy use, and use of chemicals. Air and water pollution can also be an issue. Recycled cardboard can cut down on the environmental footprint, but even so, it’s unclear if recycled card board has a lower eco impact than plastic in terms of production. Some sources indicate recycling ‘halves the environmental impact’
  • 3. Plastic might have a lesser carbon footprint for packaging and for transporting and delivering goods than cardboard.
  • 4. Cardboard has a clear sustainability benefit over plastic when it comes to disposal, waste management and end of product or material lifecycle. Cardboard is bio degradable and breaks down much quicker than plastic. It also has a much higher recycling rate.
  • Overall, it depends on the environmental indicator and stage of the product or material lifecycle you are talking about, when considering if plastic or cardboard is more sustainable. Cardboard seems to win out in the sourcing and waste management stage, where as plastic seems to win out in the production stage.

 

How Cardboard Is Used

Cardboard is a heavy duty type of paper, that is usually thicker and more durable than regular paper. It is widely used for:

  • Packaging, storage and box material
  • Tubes for different products like toilet rolls
  • Printed items and products like cards and signs 

Paper stock, paper board and corrugated cardboard are some of the different types of card board.

 

Cardboard vs Plastic: Comparison

  • How They Are Sourced – Cardboard comes from either wood pulp or recycled card board. Plastic comes from non renewable fossil fuel feedstock (crude oil and natural gas). Card board might be more sustainable when sourced through a sustainable forestry initiative or certification
  • Production Footprint – like paper, there has been some effort to make the production of cardboard more sustainable in recent years, but, there is still a reasonable eco footprint with card board (especially when you consider virgin materials and paper mills). Even recycling card board only ‘halves the environmental impact’ (technikpackaging.com)
  • Packaging, Delivery & Transport – cardboard generally has a higher carbon footprint than plastic in packaging and for delivery or products as a packing material (technikpackaging.com). When considered over the lifetime of the packaging, paper and cardboard embody far more greenhouse gases (theguardian.com)
  • Recyclability – some types of cardboard like waxy or dirty/contaminated board is a challenge to recycle, but overall, cardboard has a recycling rate of 85.8 percent in Europe (blog.sappi-psp.com), compared to less than a third of plastic waste in Europe [being] recycled (europarl.europa.eu). Both the plastic and cardboard recycling markets can change in terms of value for recycled materials – which can hinder recycling efforts
  • Other Waste Management Considerations – card board is mostly recycled, while most plastic is sent to land fill. Plastic can also be sent to be incinerated.
  • Pollution In The Environment – plastic is one of the most heavily littered and polluted materials, especially in rivers and oceans. Plastic can have a range of negative effects in the environment, not least is ingestion by and entanglement for marine animals.
  • Biodegradability & Time To Degradecardboard is biodegradable and might only take around 2 months to break down. Plastic on the other hand is not biodegradable and some researchers say plastic may never fully break down.
  • Other Sustainability Factors – plastic also has side effects such as leaching of chemicals (BPA, phthalates, etc.) and a possible impact on human health to consider.
  • Different Types Of Cardboard – one source indicates ‘corrugating medium [cardboard creates the least eco impact], with bleached kraft paperboard creating the most environmental impact (technikpackaging.com)

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of cardboard. Each different type of cardboard can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • Recycled card board can have a different sustainability rating compared to card board made from virgin materials
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a cardboard product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-paper-more-sustainable-than-plastic-comparison/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-it-takes-for-different-materials-everyday-items-to-break-down-degrade/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard

4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/mar/31/plastics-cardboard

5. https://www.sustainabilityexchange.ac.uk/cardboard

6. https://www.packnetltd.com/blog/how-environmentally-friendly-is-corrugated-cardboard/

7. https://www.heritagepaper.net/corrugated-cardboard-and-sustainable-statistics/

8. https://blog.sappi-psp.com/recycling-rate-for-paper-and-cardboard-rises-to-record-levels

9. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181212STO21610/plastic-waste-and-recycling-in-the-eu-facts-and-figures

10. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Corrugated-Cardboard.html

11. https://www.technikpackaging.com/environmental-impact-packaging-materials/