Although we don’t see it, millions of gallons of water go into the products we buy, use and throw away. The factories that manufacture everyday materials like paper, plastic, metal and fabric depend on water to make and clean their products. Becoming aware of how we use and reuse products is an important step towards water conservation.
Water is used in the production of many materials and finished products we personally use everyday. Take cars, for example. It takes 75,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of steel. Since the average car contains about 2,150 pounds of steel, that means over 80,000 gallons of water is needed to produce the finished steel for one car. The gasoline that fuels a car also requires water consumption: approximately 1 to 2.5 gallons of water is used in the process of refining a gallon of gasoline.
It takes 24 gallons of water to make 1 pound of another everyday material: plastic. In fact, it takes at least twice as much water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount of water in the water bottle. And the water footprint of 1 pound of cotton is 1,320 gallons. That’s more than 700 gallons of water for one new cotton shirt.
American industrial facilities withdraw over 18.2 billion gallons of fresh water per day. But due to increasingly efficient manufacturing practices, these factories have actually reduced water use by 30 percent since 1985. While many factories are making an effort to reduce their use and save water, American consumers aren’t always doing their part. In 2008, for example, we threw out 34.48 million tons of paper and 27.93 million tons of plastic — both of which are water-intensive materials that could be re-used and/or recycled. Every piece of paper and plastic container we toss in the trash is just water down the drain.
Cutting back on consumption of manufactured goods reduces the number of products that are made, in turn reducing the amount of water used in factories. Additionally, recycling the products we've already used can have a positive effect. For example, you can save about 3.5 gallons of water just by recycling a pound a paper – the same amount found in a typical daily newspaper. By doing little things like recycling at home, reusing items when we can and using fewer plastic bags and paper towels, we can each make a big difference. Every drop counts!