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Food and sustainability

Saving water starts with small actions

Particularly in the developed countries, water use (and waste) is reaching extremely high levels, at the very limits of sustainability, but this tendency could be reversed if each of us modified our daily habits.

Only 0.001% of the planet’s total store of water is usable by humans, and total water reserves are diminishing, due above all to climate change and pollution. Furthermore, water use is set to increase in step with greater urbanisation, the growth in world population and many other factors. Faced with such a dramatic situation, governments are asking themselves what are the most effective strategies to put in place in order to stem the flow of such an enormous problem: indeed, without water we cannot live.

Real water…
But government projects alone are not enough. While it’s true that most of the planet’s fresh water is used by agriculture (70%) and industry (22%), we should not forget that domestic use accounts for the remaining 8%. In other words, each of us has our own “water footprint” or influence to some degree on overall water use, and therefore even our small everyday actions can play a part in protecting this precious resource. Based on authoritative sources and recommendations from international bodies, BCFN has calculated that by making small changes in our daily habits we can reduce our water footprint. But how much water do we need each day? The UN has established that 20-50 litres per person per day is the minimum quantity necessary to ensure basic hygiene needs. This figure refers to what is known as “real water”, in other words its use is visible and easy to calculate: it’s water used for drinking, washing, cooking, cleaning or watering the garden and the vegetable patch. However, this represents only a tiny part of our personal water footprint.

…and virtual water
Each of us uses an average of two litres of water a day for drinking, but up to 5,000 litres for eating. The food we put on our table is full of water, the "invisible" water used to produce food and bring it to our tables. And this is why the choices we make every day - and particularly the foods we choose - can make a difference in terms of water footprint and water saving. The production of foods from animal sources (meat, milk, eggs) requires greater water use, while plant-based foods generally require far less. A few figures may help to clarify the idea: for a vegetarian diet, the use of virtual water ranges from approximately 1,500 - 2,600 litres a day, against the 4,000 - 5,000 litres required for a meat-based diet. Therefore, by adopting a Mediterranean-type diet, we could save over 2,000 litres of water per person every day.
The total amount of water contained in food depends on many factors, which are illustrated in detail in the book Eating Planet edited by BCFN: the farming methods used, the climate and the soil conditions, and also where the food is produced. On a global scale, the production of one kilo of beef requires an average of 15,414 litres of water (meat produced intensively needs five times more water than that produced by grazing), while 250 grammes of tomato contains 50 litres of "virtual water"; a pizza margherita needs 1,259 litres.

Simple water-saving ideas
It's not only the food we put on our tables, many of the objects we use and the actions we carry out can help to reduce our water footprint. A leaking tap, for example, can waste dozens of litres of water every day. So here are some water-saving tips to put into practise right now.
1. Fix leaking taps and toilet flushes and fit taps with aerators which mix air with the water, reducing flow and splashes. With an investment of a couple of euros we can save tens of thousands of litres per year.
2. Choose showers rather than baths to save approximately 23 m3 of water a year.
3. Turn the tap off while soaping in the shower, and don't leave it running while you brush teeth or shave.
4. Choose flush systems with a dual flush button or handle to regulate the flow.
5. Use washing machines and dishwashers with a high energy rating (A or higher), and only when completely filled.
6. In the garden and the allotment, choose drip irrigation systems rather than hosepipes, and use them at the coolest time of day (early morning or after sunset). You can also collect rainwater and use it for watering plants.
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