Most of us perform several simple water-saving tasks every single day.
We turn off the faucet when we brush our teeth. We take daily showers instead of luxurious bubble baths. We even keep water cool in the refrigerator instead of running the tap until the water gets cold.
Most of us learned about these water conservation techniques way back in elementary school. And while we may consider ourselves responsible water consumers, there are still many hidden ways we waste or misuse water every day. Often without realizing it.
Water waste and misuse contribute to water scarcity and unequal access for millions of people worldwide, particularly those living in regions affected by poverty, conflict, and climate change-related catastrophes. Around the world, roughly 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to clean drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.
That’s why Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring universal access to clean water. You can take action on this issue here.
You can also consider five common ways we indirectly consume water through our purchases, energy use, and complacence.
1// Buying Bottled Water
When it comes to bottled water, the plastic containers’ impact on the environment tends to garner the most attention.
But the origin of the water itself is a massive problem that affects some of the most drought-plagued regions of the US and the world.
At least 45% of bottled water in the US is just filtered tap water — often the very same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home. And while communities throughout Michigan contend with municipal water crises fueled by government cost-cutting and neglect, bottlers have tried to set up shop in the state in order to sell water back to residents.
As Cape Town careens toward a complete water shutdown, advocacy organizations like the Water Crisis Coalition, have railed against the impact of bottling. Coca Cola and other conglomerates have slurped much-needed water from the city’s reservoir during a devastating drought.
“That amounts to abuse of the crisis rather than positively contributing to measures that will make the water last a little longer,” Shaheed Mohamed, a member of the Water Crisis Coalition told Quartz Africa. “The water they have access to should be made available to the communities where water has been limited unfairly.”
2// Leaving the Lights On
Turning on the lights or raising the thermostat may seem like surprising ways to waste water. But if your heat or electricity come from natural gas then you indirectly contribute to water waste and misuse.
That’s because natural gas fracking uses nearly 10 million gallons of water per well and depletes agriculture and drinking water sources in drought-stricken regions like Texas and other parts of the Southwest, according to research by the US Geological Survey.
Fracking — the common term for the process of hydraulic fracturing — blasts huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to release methane gas, which is then captured and used as a fossil fuel.
Though a fraction of the fracking water does get recycled, the vast majority is removed from the water cycle and often plunged deep underground because it’s so heavily contaminated with the toxic substances used to frack, Scientific American reports.
3// Ignoring Our Faulty Faucets
It may seem like just a teeny puddle pooling in the cabinet under your kitchen sink or on the floor of your shower, but all that water adds up.
In fact, the amount of water drip-drip-dripping from leaky taps and pipes could fill 40 million swimming pools. Or 24 billion bathtubs. Or the entire expanse of Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest body of water.
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report as part of Fix A Leak Week that detailed the 1 trillion gallons of household water trickling through faulty faucets, punctured pipes, or perpetually running toilets every year in the US.
The solution? Grab a wrench and tighten the tap. Or call a plumber.
4// Logging In to Facebook
In the process of preserving and powering internet technology, massive data centers generate a tremendous amount of heat. So to keep the facility cool and stop the servers from frying, data centers depend on water — lots of it.
Just one data center operated by the National Security Administration in Utah uses 1.7 million gallons of water a day to stay cool.
In 2016, Facebook consumed about 315 million gallons of water, with about three-quarters of that total diverted to its data centers. Meanwhile, vast cryptocurrency mining operations for Bitcoin and imitators constitute the next frontier for data center cooling and threaten to drain water supplies.
Companies have begun implementing less water-intensive cooling solutions, but they are a long way from becoming the norm.
5// Buying New Clothes
The dye used to color our clothing requires a vast amount of water, which means every new t-shirt we purchase takes a toll on the water supply.
According to The Guardian, dying facilities in India and China burden local water supplies in two ways. First, they suck a large amount of water from rivers, lakes, and streams and then they dump contaminated wastewater back into those water sources.
Just one pair of jeans can take up to 8,000 gallons of water to produce, from the cotton field through the dying process.
Some companies, like Patagonia, have begun switching to non water-based dyes. Patagonia uses half the average water consumption at its dye houses and has even experimented with bug poop as a source of environmentally friendly dye.
“The textile industry is one of the most chemically intensive industries on earth, second only to agriculture, and the world’s largest polluter of increasingly scarce freshwater,” wrote Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard in his book The Responsible Company. “The World Bank estimates nearly 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment.”