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Virtual Water Eco Labels

Two important questions with regards to embodied / virtual water are:

  • How much water in a product?

  • Where did that water come from?

How much water in a product?

Below are some figures I got off Wikipedia:

  • the production of 1 kg wheat costs 1,300 L water
  • the production of 1 kg broken rice costs 3,400 L water
  • the production of 1 kg eggs costs 3,300 L water
  • the production of 1 kg beef costs 15,000 L water
  • the production of 1 cotton shirt of 300 gram costs 2,500 L water

In short if I have bowl of rice for lunch I will use at most 1000 litres of virtual water.

If I had a beef steak I would be using 5000 litres of virtual water. Five times the amount. Why?

Its all to do with the food chain. As shown below.


So it take a thousand litres of water to grow 1 kilogram of  rice, and you might feed 7000 kg (seven tonnes) of rice to a cow over a three year period until it is big enough to eat.

So for one cow the total water might be 7000,000 litres in its life time. One kilo of cow (one whole cow might weigh 500kg), you are looking at 14,000 kg of water per kilo of beef.

So by being a vegetarian you are saving perhaps 500% of the water of carnivore. Beef is probably the most water hungry of meats that are commonly eaten, chicken and pork are a lot better.


Where does the water come from?

If you are importing cranberries from Massachusetts in the USA then chances are that ever one who lives in Massachusetts has plenty of water to drink, despite the production of cranberries.

Cranberry Bog - Havest Time As you can see cranberries are grown in a bog, with lots of water, which in a wet place such as  Massachusetts is not a problem, there is plenty of water to go round. Now. . . they don't grow cranberries in Texas, but imagine the drain on the water supply id they did. So in this respect the source of the embodied water in the product is as important as the quantity.

One area in the world where water is scarce is in the middle east. Israel's struggle to maintain control of the Golan Heights is probably due to the fact that it supplies 15% if Israel's water. So therefore by buying vegetables grown in Israel you may be fuelling conflict.

No British retails have embodied water labelling, but Marks and Spencer are looking in to embodied water in there supply chain.