If you were to approach the average man in the street with the question: “What is virtual water?” the chances are you would be met with blank looks or the misguided notion that the concept had some connection to technology and the worldwide web.

But the reality is that virtual water is all around us – we just never noticed it before. For much of the past decade we’ve been taught to focus on reducing the amount of domestic water consumption within our everyday life.

At present, domestic consumption stands at an average of 137 litres per day, in what experts describe as visible water use.

This includes water use in everyday activities like cooking, cleaning and drinking as well as domestic chores like doing laundry, taking a shower or bath and even flushing the toilet.

But while steps are being taken to reduce consumption of this kind, it’s the invisible water use in the house that needs the most attention – this is virtual water.

We may not be able to see it but it accounts for a considerable amount of our overall use and can be broken down into two specific subgroups of invisible water use: industrial products and food.

The average household uses around 167 litres a day in everyday products like clothing and paper while an average 3,496 litres a day is used in the food we consume every day.

It’s these two invisible groups that are getting the most attention from those keen to cut back on consumption and it’s these two groups that come under the blanket term of virtual water – a concept created by expert professor Tony Allan.

Meat production offers a fine example of the problem at hand. Look at beef for instance – it takes an average of three years to produce 200 kg of meat during which time 1,300 kg of grains are consumed by the animals, alongside 7,200 kg of roughages like dry hay which, when combined, require around 3,060,000 litres of water to produce.

Then there is the 24,000 litres of drinking water required for the cow and a further 7,000 litres for the maintenance of the slaughterhouse.

It all adds up to 3,091,000 litres of water for just 200 kg of boneless beef or 15,400 litres per one kilo – that’s a lot of water for a very small amount of meat.

And it’s not even the worst culprit either – it takes 18,900 litres to make just one kilo of coffee – how’s that for a wake-up?

So now you know what virtual water is, now is the time to take steps to address this concern.

Reducing the amount of meat you eat, or even coffee you drink is a good start and could be a good way to kick-start a new healthier you, with less fatty beef and lamb products and a reduction in the amount of caffeine you consume.

However another important aim for anyone looking to address this growing concern should be to look to eco products as a solution to such concerns.

Eco washing and cleaning products for your bathroom and kitchen have been made in ways using less water, with washing up liquid and washing machine powders both easily available from most retailers.

Meanwhile, those seeking to go the extra mile may even wish to consider switching up to ethical clothing brands – the planet will definitely thank you for it.
Whatever you decide to do, the time for action is now, otherwise virtual water consumption could become an increasingly real problem for us all.

Virtual Water: A Very Real Concern of the Common Household
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