How Much Water It Takes To Produce/Make Common Everyday Products & Foods (Water Footprint/Virtual Water) 

Everyday items and products like jeans, t shirts, beef, and so on, all take water to make.

In this guide, we look at how much water is takes to make and produce common everyday products and foods i.e. what their water footprints are.

Although water footprints of products and foods are a very rough/general estimate only, they can be a good starting point to consider how the choices we make of what to produce and consume impact water resources.

 

Summary – Foods, Products, & The Water It Takes To Make Them 

On a per weight basis, livestock animal meats, dairy based products (such as chocolate, butter and cheese) and processed foods can be water intensive to produce 

Amongst livestock animals meats, poultry tends to take less water to produce than other meats like beef and lamb, or even pork for example. Beef tends to be be the most water intensive (largely from animal feed for factory farmed beef).

Something to note about livestock production is that once feed conversion efficiency is taken into consideration, beef from industrial systems generally has a lower total water footprint than beef from mixed or grazing systems.

In terms of non animal meat based foods, some rice paddy varieties, some olive varieties, and some almonds can be water hungry

Tomatoes and cabbages might be amongst some of the least water intensive crops to grow, along with potatoes

With food, it’s too simplistic to give one figure that summarises the amount of water required to produce it. There’s variables and different factors that make up a water footprint

One of the factors you have to consider is the unit of measurement for a water footprint

For example, different measurables might include water usage per serving size, per gram of protein, per gram of fat, per amount of carbs, per micro and macro nutrients, per calorie, price, and so on. Some estimates indicate that meat even uses less water compared to fruit, grains and vegetables when measuring per dollar of economic value produced

In addition, some foods have different variations and types – like sugar – which can be produced from sugar beet or sugar cane, and both these variations can have different water footprints. Milk is another example – there’s many different types of milk available – cow milk, goat milk, almond milk, and so on

Water required to grow or produce food can also be geographic location specific i.e. it can depend on the methods or systems the farmer or producer uses, the soil type, the local climate, the amount of rain fed water used vs other types of water, and so on. These variables can drastically change the final water volume required for production

Something that people don’t consider with beverages like sodas, fruit juices, coffee and beer or wine is that it can be the crops or plants used in those beverages, and not the manufacturing process that can be responsible for a lot of water use. Pure water usually has a lower water footprint than all those beverages

Separate to the water footprint of individual foods and drinks, is the water footprint of a person’s diet. This takes into consideration the amount and types of foods eaten. For example, the average American diet might be far more water intensive than the diet of someone from another country

Also separate to the water footprint of individual foods and drinks, is the volume of water used for certain food products within the agriculture industry as a whole. Volume can be broken down into plant vs non plant based products, and then into the individual meat types, fruit types, vegetable types, grain types, and so on. One estimate from news.thomasnet.com is ’29 percent of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products. One-third of that water is used to raise beef cattle.’

In terms of fibres, cotton usually requires a lot more water to grow compared to other fibres

Cars as a product usually use a lot of water to manufacture

Different types of energy or electricity production can be more or less water efficient than others – for example, natural gas can be far more water efficient per unit of electricity or energy produced than coal and some types of biofuel

With any product, it should be considered how long that product lasts for – and the water footprint can be divided among the number of years. This gives an idea of water footprint per year of owning the product (and gives a good way to compare products too). This is also a good way, if you throw out or update products regularly (like cars and phones), to see what your water footprint is to repair or keep a product vs getting a new one. Although, there can be questions over how beneficial options like recycling and buying second hand can be if factors like performance and time investment come into consideration

Direct and indirect water used to produce a product should be considered – this provides a total water footprint for the product across the entire production process, right up to purchase and consumption. For example, a product like water needs to be packaged, usually with a plastic bottle, and then also disposed of – both of which have a water footprint. Operational water footprints should also be considered e.g. how much water is used in the products and services required to run, repair and maintain … cars are a good example of this with water required to refine fuel, to clean the car, and so on.

The features and characteristics of a finished product should be considered. As one example, 1kg of bovine leather may require a certain amount of water to produce, but the final amount of leather used in a small leather wallet is far less than the amount of leather used in a large leather jacket – and this impacts the final water footprint.

The type of water used to produce a product or grow food should be considered – for example, using highly renewable water or growing rainfed crops, is different to using non renewable fresh water, or excessive water use from sources such as aquifers that can take a long time to recharge

If we use electricity generation as an example, if water is withdrawn and then returned to it’s source where it can eventually be used again – this type of water use is obviously far more sustainable than water consumption where water can’t be re-used. So, some water footprints can be misleading if you just look at total water use in this regard

When looking at the visible and invisible water footprint of individuals, we see that the food we eat makes up a large majority of the total footprint, with meat eaters having a larger water footprint than vegetarians. Food waste also play a significant part in the daily water footprint of an individual 

There’s ultimately a vast amount of variables that can go into calculating and comparing water footprints – which can make the task complex

Water footprints also have their limitations, such as only producing a water volume number that represents a product. There can be benefits and tradeoffs to using water such as providing local jobs and livelihoods to people. There can also be considerations such as using water in a place with abundant water supplies, or in a place with abundant rainfall, where using more water doesn’t usually lead to water scarcity issues

 

*Note: water footprints of different products and activities are a rough guide only because of the nature of being able to accurately gather water use data over the lifecycle of a product, and the complexities and challenges involved. They can however be used to identify general trends and general water data, as well as be used for general comparisons.

 

How Much Water It Takes To Produce/Make Common Everyday Products & Foods

Water required per unit of food weight or beverage volume is:

  • Chocolate – 17,196 litres per 1kg
  • Beef Meat- 15,415 litres per 1kg
  • Sheep Meat – 10,412 litres per 1kg
  • Pork Meat – 5988 litres per 1kg
  • Butter – 5553 litres per 1kg
  • Chicken Meat – 4325 litres per 1kg
  • Cheese – 3178 litres per 1kg
  • Olives – 3025 litres per 1kg
  • Paddy Rice – 2497 litres per 1kg
  • Cotton – 2495 litres per 250g
  • Pasta (Dry) – 1849 litres per 1kg
  • Bread – 1608 litres per 1kg
  • Pizza – 1239 litres per 1kg
  • Apple – 822 litres per 1kg
  • Banana – 790 litres per 1kg
  • Potatoes – 287 litres per 1kg
  • Milk – 255 litres per 250ml glass
  • Cabbage & Lettuce – 237 litres per 1kg
  • Tomato – 214 litres per 1kg
  • Egg – 196 litres per one 60 gram egg
  • Wine – 109 litres per 250ml glass
  • Beer – 74 litres per 250ml glass
  • Tea – 27 litres per 250ml cup

Additionally, meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. … to produce 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water.

– theguardian.com

 

According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org, other water estimations to produce other products are:

  • Coffee – 132 litres per 125 ml
  • Cucumber or Pumpkin – 353 litres per 1kg
  • Orange – 560 litres per 1kg
  • Peach Or Nectarine – 910 litres per 1kg
  • Sugar (from sugar beet) – 920 litres per 1kg
  • Bio-ethanol (from Sugar Beet) – 1,188 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
  • Maize/Corn – 1222 litres per 1kg
  • Margherita Pizza – 1259 litres per 1kg
  • Sugar (from sugar cane) – 1782 litres per 1kg
  • Mango/Guava – 1800 litres per 1kg
  • Bio-ethanol (from Sugar Cane) – 2,107 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
  • Dates – 2277 litres per 1kg
  • Groundnuts/Peanuts – 2782 litres per 1kg
  • Bio-ethanol (from Maize) – 2,854 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
  • Milk Power – 4745 litres per 1kg
  • Goat Meat – 5521 litres per 1kg
  • Bio-diesel (from Soybean) – 11,397 litres of water per litre of bio-diesel
  • Leather (from bovines) – 17093 litres per 1kg (A bovine animal at the end of its life time has an average water footprint of 1,890,000 litre)
  • The global average water footprint of chicken meat is about 4330 litre/kg. The water footprint of chicken meat is smaller than the footprints of meat from beef cattle (15400 litre/kg), sheep (10400 litre/kg), pig (6000 litre/kg) or goat (5500 litre/kg).
  • The water footprint related to the animal feed takes by far the largest share (99%) in the total water footprint of beef. Drinking and service water contribute only 1% toward the total water footprint. One piece of beef can be very different from another piece. The precise water footprint of beef strongly depends on the production system from which the beef is derived (grazing, mixed or industrial), the composition of the feed and the origin of the feed. Due to the large feed conversion efficiency, beef from industrial systems generally has a lower total water footprint than beef from mixed or grazing systems.
  • The water footprint of sheep meat strongly depends on the production system from which the meat is derived (grazing, mixed or industrial), the composition of the feed and the origin of the feed.
  • The average water footprint per calorie for pork is five times larger than for cereals and starchy roots.
  • The average water footprint per gram of protein in the case of pork is three times larger than for pulses.

– waterfootprint.org

 

  • The water footprints of some of the most common products are:
    • Car – 13,737 to 21,926 gallons
    • Leather Shoes – 3,626 gallons
    • Smart Phone (mobile) – 3,190 gallons
    • Bed Sheet (cotton) – 2,839 gallons
    • Jeans (cotton) – 2,108 gallons
    • T Shirt (cotton) – 659 gallons

– watercalculator.org

 

  • … it takes 22 gallons of water to make one pound of plastic
  • … it takes at least twice as much water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount of water contained in the bottle
  • The water footprint of one pound of cotton is 1,320 gallons. That equals over 650 gallons of water for one new cotton t-shirt
  • Refining gasoline takes water – approximately one to 2.5 gallons of water to refine one gallon of gasoline
  • To meet all of these needs, industrial facilities in the US withdraw over 15.9 billion gallons of water per day

– watercalculator.org

 

  • Cereal (25 grams) – 41 litres of water
  • Milk (250ml) – 255 litres of water
  • Egg (one) – 200 litres of water
  • One Hamburger – 2808 litres of water. Two hamburger buns are 85 litres, One 6oz beef patty is 2626 litres, one leaf of lettuce is 1 litre, one slice of tomato is 6 litres, one slice of cheese is 90 litres
  • One Coke (335ml) – 124 litres of water
  • One Beef Steak (8oz) – 3496 litres of water
  • Corn (a half ear) – 277 litres
  • Baked Potato (one) – 108 litres of water
  • The average American might have a water footprint of over 7000 litres a day based on the food they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

– get-green-now.com

 

It takes this much water to produce a kilogram (litres per kilogram) of the following common goods:

  • Coffee (roasted beans) – 18,900 Litres (132L per 125ml cup)
  • Chocolate – 17,196 Litres (1700L per 3.5 oz bar)
  • Beef – 15,415 Litres
  • Cotton – 10,000 Litres (8000L per pair of jeans)
  • Tea – 8,860 Litres (27L per 250ml cup)
  • Pork – 5,988 Litres
  • Chicken – 4,325 Litres
  • Eggs – 3,267 Litres
  • Olives – 3,015 Litres
  • Rice – 2,497 Litres
  • Soybeans – 2,145 Litres
  • Wheat – 1,827 Litres
  • Sugar (cane) – 1,782 Litres
  • Barley – 1,423 Litres
  • Corn – 1,222 Litres
  • Milk – 1,020 Litres (225L per 250ml cup)
  • Apples – 822 Litres (125L per apple)
  • Bananas – 790 Litres (160L per banana)
  • Beer – 298 Litres (74L per 250ml cup)
  • Potatoes – 287 Litres (260L per large bag of chips)

– earthmagazine.org

 

  • A microchip – 8 gallons of water
  • An apple – 18 gallons of water
  • Pint of beer – 20 gallons of water
  • 4 oz. Wine – 32 gallons of water
  • 16 oz. diet coke – 33 gallons of water
  • 4 oz. coffee – 37 gallons of water
  • 7 oz. Orange Juice – 45 gallons of water
  • Diaper – 214 gallons of water
  • 1lb of Chicken Meat – 467 gallons of water
  • 1lb Of Cheese – 599 gallons of water
  • Hamburger – 634 gallons of water
  • Cotton Shirt – 719 gallons of water
  • Ream Of White Paper – 1321 gallons of water
  • 1lb of Beef – 1857 gallons of water
  • Leather Shoes –  2113 gallons of water
  • Pair Of Jeans – 2866 gallons of water
  • Mid Sized Car – 39,090 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

  • The production of one kilogramme of beef requires approximately 15 thousand litres of water (93% green, 4% blue, 3% grey water footprint). There is a huge variation around this global average. The precise footprint of a piece of beef depends on factors such as the type of production system and the composition and origin of the feed of the cow.
  • The water footprint of a 150-gramme soy burger produced in the Netherlands is about 160 litres. A beef burger from the same country costs on average about 1000 litres.

– waterfootprint.org

 

  • It takes about 270 gallons of water to produce $1 worth of sugar. A single 5 lb. bag of refined white sugar uses about 88 gallons of water, most of it from the farming of sugar cane and sugar beets.
  • It takes 200 gallons of water to make $1 worth of pet food
  • It takes 140 gallons of water to make $1 worth of milk
  • It takes 95 litres of water to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity
  • Only about 10 gallons of water are required to extract enough natural gas to generate 1,000 kWh of electricity
  • By comparison, a coal-fired power plant delivering the same amount of energy would use about 140 gallons of water.
  • More than 180,000 liters of water are required to produce enough soybean-based biodiesel to provide a home with a month’s worth of energy. This is because large amounts of water are required for irrigation of the soil in which the soybeans grow, then more water to turn the soybeans into biofuel.
  • It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans (Most of this water is used in what’s known as “wet processing” as well as dyeing of fabric)
  • 29 percent of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products. One-third of that water is used to raise beef cattle.
  • It takes between 180 and 328 gallons of water to produce a 2-liter bottle of soda
  • It takes 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer
  • It takes nearly 37 gallons of water to produce the ingredients to make a single cup of coffee
  • It takes about 39,000 gallons of water to produce the average domestic car, including the tires (Major water uses in the automotive manufacturing industry include surface treatment and coating, paint spray booths, washing/rinsing/hosing, cooling, air conditioning systems and boilers)

– news.thomasnet.com

 

  • Different countries might use a different amount of water to grow and produce different foods (wikipedia.org)
  • The average virtual water content of some selected products in the USA in m3/ton is:
  • Leather (bovine) – 14,190 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Beef – 13,193 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Sheep Meat –  5977 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Coffee (roasted) – 5790 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Cotton Lint –  5733 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Coffee (green) – 4864 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Pork – 3946 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Cheese –  3457 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Milk Powder – 3234 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Goat Meat –  3082 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Cotton Seed – 2535 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Chicken Meat –  2389 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Millet – 2143 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Rice (broken) – 1903 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Soybeans – 1869 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Rice (husked) – 1,656 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Eggs – 1510  m3/tons of virtual water
  • Rice (paddy) – 1275 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Wheat – 849 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Sorghum – 782 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Barley – 702 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Milk – 695 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Maize – 489 m3/tons of virtual water
  • Sugarcane – 103 m3/tons of virtual water

– wikipedia.org

 

  • Consider that the amount of water sufficient to irrigate one hectare of rice crop is the same that would cover the needs of 100 nomads with 450 heads of cattle over three years or 100 urban families over a two-year period.

– eniscuola.net

 

How Much Water Does It Take To Meet One Person’s Daily Dietary Needs?

  • … it takes roughly 3,000 liters of water to meet one person’s daily dietary needs, or approximately 1 liter per calorie

– huffingtonpost.com

 

  • Roughly, a liter of water is required to produce every calorie, so an adequate daily diet requires more than 2,000 liters of water to produce enough food for one person.

– water.jhu.edu

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make Chocolate

  • 17,196 Litres (1700L per 3.5 oz bar)

– earthmagazine.org

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make A Burger

  • One Hamburger – 2808 litres of water. Two hamburger buns are 85 litres, One 6oz beef patty is 2626 litres, one leaf of lettuce is 1 litre, one slice of tomato is 6 litres, one slice of cheese is 90 litres

– get-green-now.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Produce Meat – Beef, Chicken, Pork and Sheep

  • The global average water footprint of chicken meat is about 4330 litre/kg. The water footprint of chicken meat is smaller than the footprints of meat from beef cattle (15400 litre/kg), sheep (10400 litre/kg), pig (6000 litre/kg) or goat (5500 litre/kg).

– waterfootprint.org

 

  • [a report found that] the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of red meat can range from 13,000 to 43,000 liters of water; poultry requires about 3,500 liters of water; and pork needs about 6,000 liters. 

– huffingtonpost.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Almonds, & Almond Milk

  • it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond, or about which would translate to about 460 gallons of water per pound of almonds. In turn, it takes about two pounds of almonds to make one gallon of Almond Milk, or 920 gallons of water

– greenoptimistic.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Cow Milk

  • it takes some 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of Cow Milk, roughly twice as much as that required to produce a gallon of Almond Milk

– greenoptimistic.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make A Pair Of Jeans

  • Jeans (cotton) – 2,108 gallons

– watercalculator.org

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make A Cotton Shirt

  • T Shirt (cotton) – 659 gallons

– watercalculator.org

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make A Mobile Phone/Smartphone

  • Smart Phone (mobile) – 3,190 gallons

– watercalculator.org

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make A Car

  • Mid Sized Car – 39,090 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make Paper

  • Ream Of White Paper – 1321 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

  • It takes about 3 gallons to make one sheet of paper (theatlantic.com)

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make A Plastic Bottle Or 1lb Of Plastic

  • it takes 22 gallons of water to make one pound of plastic
  • it takes at least twice as much water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount of water contained in the bottle

– watercalculator.org

 

Although, when including water in the supply chain (and not just the plastic bottle), that amount of water could be six or seven times what’s inside the bottle (npr.org)

 

How Much Water Is Used To Produce 1 kwh Of Electricity

  • The electricity sector uses 143 billion gallons of freshwater a day to run power plants.  Coal plants typically use 20 to 50 gallons of water to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity. And that doesn’t even take into account the water needed to mine the coal and store the coal waste.

– insideenergy.org

 

Where We Use Water Per Person, Per Day In Households

In terms of gallons of water per person, per day, in households, we use water in the following ways:

  • For Food (indirect on farms) – 510 gallons per day for food production. Includes irrigation and livestock
  • For Electricity (indirect at power plants) – 465 gallons per day for household electricity. Ranges from 30 to 600 depending on technology
  • For Direct Use – 100 gallons per day for direct use. Includes bathing, laundry, lawn and gardening etc.

– insideenergy.org

 

Which Industries Use The Most Water?

 

Read More About Water Footprints & Virtual Water

You can read more in the following guide about what a Water Footprint or Virtual Water is, how it’s calculated, and potential limitations to using it as a measurement benchmark:

 

Sources

1. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste

2. https://www.watercalculator.org/water-use/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products/

3. http://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Report16Vol1.pdf

4. https://www.watercalculator.org/footprints/what-is-a-water-footprint/

5. http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/product-gallery/

6. http://waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/what-is-water-footprint/

7. https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/virtual-water-tracking-unseen-water-goods-and-resources

8. https://get-green-now.com/food-water-footprint-infographic/

9. https://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/waterstat/

10. http://www.gracelinks.org/1408/water-footprint-calculator

11. https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/virtual-water-tracking-unseen-water-goods-and-resources

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_water

13. https://news.thomasnet.com/imt/2012/04/10/down-the-drain-industry-water-use

14. https://www.motherjones.com/food/2015/04/blue-jeans-cars-microchips-water-use/

15. http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2013/10/22/water-footprints-policy-relevant-or-one-dimensional-indicators/

16. http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2012/05/14/virtual-water-some-reservations/

17. https://www.motherjones.com/food/2015/04/blue-jeans-cars-microchips-water-use/

18. https://www.greenoptimistic.com/milk-problem-environment-20140908/#.W8Qa5RMzbR0

19. http://insideenergy.org/2014/07/09/energy-and-water-2-the-thirsty-house/

20. http://www.oliveaustralia.com.au/Olifax_Topics/Water_Requirements/water_requirements.html

21. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/28/241419373/how-much-water-actually-goes-into-making-a-bottle-of-water

22. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/it-takes-more-than-3-gallons-of-water-to-make-a-single-sheet-of-paper/258838/

23. http://www.eniscuola.net/en/argomento/water-knowledge/uses/water-waste-in-agriculture/

24. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-nierenberg/7-strategies-for-reducing_b_2886646.html

25. http://water.jhu.edu/index.php/magazine/agriculturemeeting-the-water-challenge

26. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/which-industries-use-the-most-water/

27. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/explaining-the-water-footprint-virtual-water-in-products-food-more/

28. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-visible-invisible-water-we-use-everyday/

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