water Program

Water Saving Tips: Shopping Smarter

Water use can be direct, for example when you turn on the tap or flush the toilet. But water use can also be indirect for producing the goods and services you buy, use and consume every day (this is also known as virtual water). It takes water to produce and transport all the plastics, textiles and electronics you use every day so, when you make thoughtful purchases and reuse or recycle these items, you also save water.

Read on to learn how to save water by changing how and what you consume and wasting less (be sure to check out our tips for food and energy use as well), and take our Water Footprint Calculator to find out how much water you use directly and indirectly each day.


  • Think about whether you really need to purchase that new lamp or those jeans or that upgraded phone before you purchase it. Our standard of living in the United States requires a lot of water to maintain because we shop a lot. As a result we have one of the highest water footprints in the world.
  • Buy less and reuse or repurpose what you already have.
  • Recycle everything that you can.
  • Donate whatever you can, where it’s appropriate.
  • Buy quality, reusable products such as non-disposable cameras, reusable or electric razors, reusable dishes and mugs and utensils and have your child carry lunch in a reusable lunch box.
  • See how your water footprint compares to those in other countries.

Recycling Paper

  • Use less paper. It takes 1,321 gallons to make 500 sheets of virgin paper so go paperless when you can.
  • Recycling one ton of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water.
  • There are lots of ways to use less paper or to recycle it. Think, “saving paper (or plastic, glass or aluminum for that matter) equals saving water
  • Take advantage of your digital devices and cut back on printing!
  • Consider all the mail you get. Don’t toss it in the garbage, recycle it. Better yet, get off of junk mail lists, sign up for paperless billing if you don’t need paper copies of bills and ask charities to take you off their mailing lists if you won’t support them.
  • Bring your own coffee mug or cup if you buy coffee. Then you don’t have to use paper for the cup and plastic for the lid.
  • Recycle that cereal box! A lot of food and product packaging is made from paperboard, which most recyclers now accept.
  • If you receive a lot of newspapers, check with your local shelter or SPCA since they might need them. Better yet, go digital with your newspaper subscription.
  • Compost those paper towels. Some forms of composting will let you include paper. Better yet, don’t use paper towels. Use rags that can be washed and reused.
  • When you do buy paper products, look for those made from recycled content.

Recycling Plastic

  • When you have other options, avoid plastic because it’s a bad deal for the environment. Most plastic is made from petroleum products, plastic manufacturing takes a lot of water and energy and it often ends up polluting our waterways, especially the ocean.
  • Don’t add to the mountain of plastic we already have on the planet. Unless it was melted and turned into something else, every piece of plastic ever made is still around. 
  • Don’t drink bottled water. It’s the ultimate form of wasteful convenience. It takes the same amount of water or more to make the bottle as the drinking water it holds. 
  • Get a reusable container and fill it with your own beverage or water from a fountain and reduce the need for more plastic. Recycled plastic bottles aren’t refilled with water. All plastic water, juice and soda bottles are made from virgin plastic for sanitary reasons.
  • Carry a set of reusable tableware with you if you eat take out a lot. All those plastic spoons, forks, sporks and knives take water to make. Make it your thing and bring your own nice set with you, or consider using chopsticks.
  • Use cloth or reusable shopping bags. Plastic bag recycling is still extremely limited.
  • Recycle (or reuse) every bit of plastic you can and only throw it in the trash as a last resort. Plastic that goes to landfills often ends up in our water ways and ocean. Plastic bags and water bottles are top forms of pollution in beach and creek clean ups. Don’t let their journeys start with you.
  • Skip the compostable plastics if a more sustainable option exists (like using washable plates and silverware). They might seem like a good idea, but most only compost under specific conditions that most recyclers and landfill operators aren’t equipped to create.
  • Make some money from your plastic bottles. Find out if your state has a bottle bill law and if you can get money by recycling plastic bottles.

Recycling Glass

  • Fill a reusable water bottle with the beverage of your choice so you don’t have to buy packaging-intensive, single serving sizes.
  • Rinse containers before recycling to avoid odors and attracting pests.
  • Don’t put anything but container glass in the recycling. It might be unrecyclable because glass used for mirrors, glassware, etc. has components that can’t be mixed with container glass.
  • Make some money from your glass bottles. Find out if your state has a bottle bill law and if you can get money by recycling glass bottles.

Recycling Cans

  • Recycling one ton of aluminum saves lots of energy, and when you save energy, you also save water. 
  • Fill a reusable water bottle with the beverage of your choice so you don’t have to buy packaging-intensive, single serving sizes.
  • Rinse cans to avoid odors and attracting pests.
  • You can prepare aluminum cans for recycling by crushing them to save space.
  • Make some money from your aluminum cans. Find out if your state has a bottle bill law and if you can get money by recycling aluminum cans.

Reusing and Recycling Textiles

  • Here’s the hardest part: Stop and ask yourself whether or not you really need that new piece of clothing.
  • If you do really need that new top, consider thrift stores for a wardrobe update. Thrift is in! And you can often find really great items at your local thrift store for a lot less than you’d pay for new.
  • Sell the clothes you’re ready to part with on eBay or at a consignment shop. If that’s too involved, donate them to a charity like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Dress for Success.
  • Have a clothing swap with friends/co-workers/social networks and donate the leftover goods to a charity.
  • Learn more about thrift store shopping.
  • Buy organic cotton. Most cotton is grown in arid locations and with heavy pesticide use. It takes 1,320 gallons of water to produce one pound of cotton, so you can significantly lower your water footprint by shopping less.
  • If you’re in the mood for some shopping therapy, change the way you think. It might feel good to purchase new things for your house, but all the “stuff” we use in and around our house (that goes for everything from electronics to kitchen products to décor) takes a lot of water to make. Think about skipping the shopping therapy and take a walk in nature instead.

Learn more about saving water in other areas of your home.