Being mindful of your direct and indirect water consumption is beneficial to the planet, your health and your finances writes Ruth Barton….
By 2050 7 billion may face conditions of water scarcity
Many of us think that our water footprint is limited to what we drink and use to wash, however this only makes up around 5% of our overall consumption. The rest of our water footprint is indirectly used on the crops that feed livestock, provide materials for our clothes and make our beer and bread.
Here are some shocking facts you may not know (to help put it into perspective remember two litres of water is a big bottle of pop):
• The number of litres of water required to produce a single egg is 200 litres.
• 2,500 litres is required to produce 500g of cheese.
• A single cotton t-shirt is created by using 2,700 litres of water.
• One steak (300g) requires 4,650 litres of water.
• A massive 16,600 litres of water is needed to produce just 1kg of leather.
It is important to be aware of indirect water consumption in order to take steps to reduce it. If we don’t change our habits then it is predicted that by 2025 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water stress or scarcity conditions – a figure that will have more than doubled in 2050 to a massive 7 billion people.
There are simple ways that you can reduce the amount of water consumed on a domestic and global scale. This will not only help reduce you ecological footprint and impact on the environment, but will also have a positive effect on your bank account.
Ways to reduce your domestic water footprint:
- Reduce the time you spend in the shower by one minute. The average shower length is around 7.5 minutes, cutting the amount of time you spend in the shower by just one minute could save you up to £15 off your energy bills (per person, per annum).
- Only fill up the kettle with as much water as you need. This could save you around £8 each year. If everybody did this, over the course of a year the UK could save enough money to power all of the country’s streetlights for two months.
- Only use your dishwasher/washing machine when you have a full load. Over the course of one month this could save you between 500 and 1,500 litres of water. When it is time to replace appliances, look for an efficient one, keep an eye out for an Energy Saving Trust Recommended logo on the machines.
- Turn the tap off while you brush your teeth. Leaving it on wastes up to 6 litres of water per minute, which amounts to 8,760 unnecessary litres a year.
Ways to reduce your global water footprint:
- Eat less meat. Countless kilograms of fodder are produced each year to feed the animals. It takes nearly 6kg of grain to produce around 450g of meat – you will save more water by not eating this pound of meat than you would by not showering for six whole months.
- Don’t buy bottled water. It is not healthier or safer than tap water but it costs more and is harmful to the environment.
- Make sure you consume responsibly farmed products. Sustainable farming can have a huge impact on the global water footprint. Farmers who use effective water management systems such as land drainage and recycling water use water more efficiently.
- Reduce waste. Only buy what you need and try not to get drawn in by offers. Homes in the UK throw away almost 7.5million tonnes of food a year. All of this food required water to produce it – water that is now going to waste.
All these steps are small lifestyle changes, but if everybody incorporated them into their daily lives it could have a huge impact on the environment and the global quality of life. In fact, if everybody in the US alone went vegetarian for just one day there would be:
· 1.5 billion pounds of surplus crops fed to farm animals (enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year).
· 70 million extra gallons of fuel – enough to power all the cars in Mexico and Canada.
· 33 more tons of antibiotics.
So why not give up meat for just one day a week and make an enormous difference to your indirect water footprint and your wallet?
Investigative films on key environmental and climate change issues from the Ecologist Film Unit
The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) is a unique project operated by the Ecologist and investigative agency Ecostorm. Launched in 2008, the EFU has, to date, produced eleven films on a range of topical and largely unreported environmental issues, with a particular focus on investigating unpalatable aspects of the food industry.
Our first investigation, Hell For Leather, probing the hidden ecological and human impact of leather tanning in Bangladesh, was featured by BBC World and a host of alternative news channels and went out to an audience of millions globally – prompting renewed interest in the long debate about the true cost of our love affair with cheap shoes and other goods made from leather.
Follow-ups included the controversial Melting Point, which investigated allegations of espionage, news manipulation, legal threats and violence against growing climate-change activism in the UK, and the hard-hitting Greed of Feed, which exposed – for the first time – the links between farmed salmon on sale in leading UK supermarkets and a host of shocking ecological and social problems connected to fishmeal production in Peru and Chile (fishmeal is a key ingredient in farmed salmon feed).
Other investigations have revealed the growing menace of MRSA connected to industrial pig rearing in Holland; the human rights abuses linked to soya cultivation in Paraguay; and the planned privatisation of Indonesia’s coastline that would see the displacement of thousands of coastal communities to make way for industrial shrimp farms and other export-orientated industries.
Story suggestions and tip-off’s
The EFU is always on the look out for original story suggestions or tip off’s in relation to wrongdoing or bad practice. Please contact us, in confidence, if you have any ideas you think we should be following up.
EFU productions to date
- Food speculation – how betting on food commodities fuels Mexico’s tortilla crisis
- Fracking Hell – the environmental costs of the new US gas drilling boom
- Sour Milk – undercover inside the US intensive dairy industry
- Dwindling forests, dwindling futures – how forest dwellers being ignored by the Bangladeshi Government
- Selling The Sea – revealing Indonesia’s little-known plans to privatise huge swathes of coastline for aquaculture
- The Killing Fields – human rights abuses and environmental devastation in Paraguay’s soya fields
- Sick As A pig – the menace of MRSA linked to industrial pig farming
- The Greed of Feed – the hidden cost of your cheap farmed salmon
- Giri Raja: the Forest King – reporting on the “wonder-chicken” hailed as a solution to feeding India’s poor
- Melting Point – on the frontline of environmental activism
- Hell For Leather – investigating the leather industry in Bangladesh
On current trends the world will contain 33 billion tonnes of plastic by 20150, writes Mae Wan Ho, and much of it will litter the oceans, concentrating toxins and damaging marine life throughout the food chain. The alternative is to classify the most toxic plastics as ‘hazardous waste’, and for all plastics to be reused and recycled in ‘closed loop’ systems.
Pesticides and organic pollutants are consistently found on plastic wastes at harmful concentrations 100 times higher than in sediments, and 1 million times higher than in sea water.
Over five trillion pieces of waste plastic are floating in our oceans, weighing 268,940 tonnes and causing damage throughout the marine food chain, according to data collected by a team of scientists from the United States, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.
The team went on 24 expeditions between 2007 and 2013 that surveyed all five sub-tropical gyres: North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Pacific, South Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and extensive coastal regions and enclosed seas including the Bay of Bengal, Australian coasts and the Mediterranean Sea.
Their work included both surface net tows and visual transects for large plastic debris at 1,571 locations in all oceans. This is the most comprehensive survey to-dat – yet it is most likely a gross under-estimate of the scale of oceanic plastic pollution.
In 2012, the world produced 280 tonnes of plastic. Less than half has been consigned to landfill or recycled, and much of the remaining 150 million tonnes not still in use litters continental shelves and oceans.
Global trends suggest that waste plastics are accumulating exponentially in parallel with trends in plastic production – which has increased 560-fold in just over 60 years.
These by-products of the oil industry are icons of the industrial economy built on the over-exploitation of oil and other fossil fuels that’s turning the planet literally into a terminal wasteland (see Redemption from the Plastics Wasteland).
Waste plastic an escalating environmental hazard
The estimate from the global survey of plastic pollution on the sea surface for all fragment size classes combined is only 0.1% of the world annual production.
The estimates are “highly conservative”, the team acknowledged: they do not account for the potentially massive amounts of plastic washed up on shorelines, submerged on the seabed, suspended in the water column, and inside organisms.
Also, the survey only collected particles larger than 0.33 mm, due to the size of the netting used. Sequestration in the sediment is the likely fate of plastic pollutants after perpetrating numerous impacts on organisms along the way.
Waste plastic in the open ocean is degraded into smaller and smaller fragments through UV radiation, mechanical abrasion, biological degradation, and disintegration. The fragments disperse in the ocean, converging in the subtropical gyres. Generation and accumulation of plastic pollution also occur in closed bays, gulfs and seas surrounded by densely populated coastlines and watersheds.
The impacts through ingestion and entanglement of marine organisms ranging from zooplankton to whales, seabirds and reptiles are well documented, and new studies are showing up harmful effects of nano-size plastic particles that have escaped inventories so far (see Plastic Poisons in the Food Chain).
The data from the global survey showed that during fragmentation plastics are lost from the sea surface . There is a 100-fold discrepancy between the expected microplastics (particles < 4.75 mm) weight and abundance and the actual amounts observed, indicating a tremendous loss of microplastics.
This suggests removal processes are operating, including UV degradation, biodegradation (by microorganisms), ingestion / absorption by organisms, decreased buoyancy due to fouling organisms, entrapment in settled detritus, and beaching.
Fragmentation rates of already brittle microplastics may be very high, breaking them down into ever smaller submicron or nanoparticles, and unrecoverable by the nets.
Numerous studies demonstrate that many more organisms ingest small plastic particles than previously thought, either directly or indirectly via their prey organisms. These are then packaged into faecal pellets which sink to the bottom. Further, there is evidence that some microbes can degrade microplastics.
Plastics at sea the cause of ecological havoc
A team of scientists led by Chelsea Rochman at University of California Davis and Mark Anthony Browne at University of California Santa Barbara in the United States wrote a Commentary in the journal Nature in 2013 calling for the need to classify plastics hazardous waste.
They point out that plastic debris can physically harm wildlife. Many plastics may be chemically harmful either because they are themselves potentially toxic or because they absorb other pollutants.
Waste plastics can kill or damage ecologically and commercially important species including mussels, sea-marsh grasses and corals. Mammals, reptiles and birds can be harmed through ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in it.
In 2012, the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal Canada reported that all sea turtle species, 45% of marine mammal species and 21% of seabird species can be harmed in that way.
Yet in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan, plastics are classified as regular ‘solid waste’ and treated like food scraps or grass clippings. Policies for managing plastic debris are outdated and severely threaten the health of wildlife.
As plastic breaks into smaller pieces, it is more likely to infiltrate food webs. In lab and field studies, fish, invertebrates and microorganisms ingest micrometre sized or smaller particles, which also come from synthetic (polyester or acrylic) clothing and cleaning products containing plastics.
Studies in humans and mussels have found that ingested and inhaled microplastics get into cells and tissues where they can cause harm. In patients who have had their knee or hip joints replaced with plastic implants, such particles can disrupt cellular processes and degrade tissues.
Toxicities of plastics
Plastics are made up of repeating units or monomers that join up to form long chains or polymers. These chains are thought to be generally inert – yet unreacted monomers and other harmful ingredients can be found in plastics.
According to United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, the chemical ingredients of more than 50% of plastics are hazardous. Studies investigating the transfer of additives in polyvinylchloride (PVC) from medical supplies to humans indicate that these chemicals can accumulate in the blood.
In lab tests, monomers and other ingredients of PVC polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate can be carcinogenic and can affect organisms in similar way to the hormone oestrogen.
The monomers making up some plastics such as polyethylene (used for carrier bags) was thought to be more benign. Yet these materials can still become toxic by picking up other pollutants. Pesticides and organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls are consistently found on plastic wastes at harmful concentrations 100 times higher than those found in sediments, and 1 million times those occurring in sea water.
Many of these are ‘priority pollutants’ – chemicals regulated by government agencies, including US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) because of their toxicity or persistence in organisms and food webs. These chemicals can disrupt processes such as cell division and immunity, causing disease or reducing the organisms’ ability to escape from predators or reproduce.
In an unpublished analysis, the authors found that at least 78% of priority pollutants listed by the EPA and 61% listed by the EU are associated with plastic debris. Seabirds that have ingested plastic waste have polychlorinated biphenyls in their tissues at 300% greater than those that have not eaten the plastic.
Classify the most harmful plastics as hazardous!
Governments have struggled for decades to reduce plastic debris. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was signed in 1973, although a complete ban on the disposal of plastics at sea was not enacted until the end of 1988.
Despite 134 nations agreeing to eliminate plastics disposal at sea, ocean sampling suggests that the problem has persisted or worsened since MARPOL was signed.
The scientists wrote: “We feel that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of the chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste – the United States, Europe and China – must act now.
“These countries should agree to classify as hazardous the most harmful plastics, including those that cannot be reused or recycled because they lack durability or contain mixtures of materials that cannot be separated.”
Focusing on the most hazardous plastics is a realistic first step. Currently, just four plastics – PVC, polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate – make up roughly 30% of production. These are made of potentially toxic materials and difficult to recycle.
PVC is used in construction, such as pipes that carry drinking water. Polystyrene is used for food packaging; polyurethane in furniture; and polycarbonate in electronics. Health-care and technology industries are already replacing PVC components in intravenous-drip bags and in computers with materials that are safer, more durable and recyclable, such as polypropylene and aluminium.
With the proposed change in plastics classification, many affected habitats could immediately be cleaned up under national legislation with government funds.
In the United States, for instance, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 would enable the EPA to clear the vast accumulations of plastics that litter the terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats under US jurisdiction.
Ultimately, the scientists want changes in regulation to drive the development of a closed-loop system in which all plastics are reused and recycled, instead of ending up in landfills where chemicals leach from the plastic into surrounding habitats.
“If current consumption rates continue, the planet will hold another 33 billion tonnes of plastic by 2050. This would fill 2.75 billion refuse-collection trucks, which would wrap around the planet roughly 800 times if placed end to end”, the scientists wrote.
“We estimate that this could be reduced to just 4 billion tonnes if the most problematic plastics are classified as hazardous immediately and replaced with safer, reusable materials in the next decade.”
Consumers could be doing far more to help combat global food wastage with relatively little effort according to a new study showing that every year, a third of all food produced ends up being binned. LAURA BRIGGS reports
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) claims that global hunger could be alleviated if just 25 percent of the food we waste each year was saved instead
As consumers we have a habit of buying too much food, often more than we can consume within specified use-by dates. This leads to mountains of food being ditched in the bin – adding to waste and impacting on resources such as energy, water and manpower, not to mention the impact on global warming.
Around 795 million people go hungry on any given day around the world, yet if we all did more to alleviate food waste we could get closer to dealing with world hunger. In one year a third of all food produced globally is binned; that’s 1.3 billion tons in weight, worth more than $1 trillion.
A new study conducted by SaveOnEnergy has revealed that the average American wastes enough food in a year to power a lightbulb for two weeks yet according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) global hunger could be alleviated if just 25 percent of food wasted each year was saved instead.
Rachel Wallach, a spokesperson for the Creative Team at SaveOnEnergy.com, which produced this report, says: “The majority of food waste in the U.S. comes from homes. Consumers generate a whopping $144 billion worth of discarded food, so taking steps to reduce waste can start at home. Composting, a common method of recycling organic material, can convert food waste into humus. This can then be used to nourish growth in gardens and crops. Consumers can also plan meals in advance to only buy necessary groceries and rearrange the fridge so the most perishable items are in front and in reach!
“Recycling all materials is important for the environment and the economy, but food waste is often overlooked. Food loss along the production line is also a key contributor to waste but most food wastage tends to occur at the consumer level. Consumers stock up their refrigerators with more food than they can eat before recommended “best-by” dates. As a result, a large portion of uneaten food is thrown out and replaced by more food– which may later go uneaten.”
In the UK 10 million tonnes of food is wasted each year, with 50% of that coming from our own homes according to the website lovefoodhatewaste.com.
The UK Government is working with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and businesses on voluntary agreements to reduce food and packaging waste but more could be done to bring in a recognised framework to reduce food waste from homes and businesses.
The main culprits for ending up in the garbage pile are dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, however these foods can all be composted so easily, putting nutrients back into the soil. It could also be turned into biogas as a fuel, or used as animal feed.
Currently in America just nine of the top 25 most populated cities have some form of food waste policy. A Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling law was recently passed in California which requires all businesses to recycle their organic waste, with the Californian Government initiative CalRecycle including online resources that help consumers manage food waste. Workshops have also been taking place in support of a newly proposed Food Waste Prevention Grant Program.
Austin, Texas is also leading the war on waste as voters unanimously called for a city ordinance that requires all restaurants to sort their compostable waste.
Many businesses in New York City have taken part in a Zero Waste Challenge. For this initiative restaurants composted organic waste, trained chefs to improve meal planning, reduced the amount of food produced after peak periods, and donated surplus food to an NGO that provides meals to the city’s homeless shelters. An incredible 37,000 tonnes of waste was diverted thanks to the 31 companies that took part in the challenge, more than 24,5000 tonnes of organic material was composted and 322 tonnes of food was donated.
A list of organisations working to fight food waste in the US can be found here.
In developed countries the main contributor to food waste is consumers who make up 43 % of the problem. This cycle of buying too much and then throwing food away could waste as much as 74 billion pounds of food a year.
All the way along the supply chain food is being thrown with less than 10% of food waste generated by consumer-facing businesses and consumers is recycled annually – that’s around 52 million tonnes.
Just small changes can make a huge impact to the level of food waste created.
Britain’s trade in waste plastic to the Far East is booming. But it’s not good news. The exported plastic is meant to be recycled under UK conditions and standards, but often is not, undermining bona fide UK recycling firms who face falling prices, reduced turnover, collapsing profits, and all too often, closure.
It makes no sense – either economic or environmental – to send used plastics out of the country. Collected properly, the recapture, re-use and recycling of these plastics would create jobs and lead to cleaner environments.
The UK exported more of its plastic packaging waste abroad for recycling in 2016 than in any of the three years previously, according to a new analysis by Energydesk.
The data comes as industry insiders warn that waste sent abroad may be incinerated or buried rather than being recycled.
More than two thirds (67%) of plastic packaging waste was exported for recycling in the first three quarters of 2016, up from 61% in the same period the year before and 60% in 2014.
Over 515,000 tonnes of plastic packaging was exported from the UK in the first three quarters of 2016, alone. Much of this was shipped to Asia.
In evidence to a recent government consultation industry experts warn ministers about the unknown fate of exports, which they claim are often exported “illegally for manual sorting in Asia, or being burned for energy recovery”.
The ‘new narcotics’
Others warn that plastic exports could be used as a front to smuggle out other, more hazardous waste.
Insiders are concerned that instead of good quality plastic for recycling, which would be labelled as ‘greenlist’, criminals could be exporting mixed and contaminated refuse labelled as plastic recycling, thus allowing them to avoid paying UK landfill taxes.
In September 2016 Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency called waste crime the “new narcotics”.
Between 2015 and 2016, the Environment Agency stopped 223 waste shipments, though it is not known how many of those purported to contain waste plastic. In the majority of cases the containers were sent back to refuse centres, but in 13 instances ‘enforcement action’ was taken.
Samantha Harding, Litter Programme Director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England told Energydesk:
“It makes no sense – either economic or environmental – to send used plastics out of the country. Collected properly, the recapture, re-use and recycling of these plastics would create jobs and lead to cleaner environments.”
Northern Vegan Festival, Manchester
Celebrate and learn about vegan living at this one-day Viva! Festival. Enjoy delicious vegan food, washed down with vegan beer, wine and cider; listen to talks, take part in workshops, and watch cookery demos at Manchester Central, the Friends Meeting House, Cross Street Chapel and The Thirsty Scholar. All proceeds go to animal welfare charities.
Earth Day, Global
This international ecology day – coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network – is marked in 193 countries, to demonstrate support for environmental awareness. Events and festivals will be held to broaden and diversify the environmental movement, address climate change and protect the earth through eco-aware democracy. The first Earth Day, celebrated by 20 million Americans, took place in 1970, and now more than 1 billion people participate worldwide. This year UK events on 22 April include the Cornwall Vegan Festival in Porthtowan, with stalls, talks and workshops; the European Stone Stacking Championships in Dunbar, East Lothian, which celebrates the meditative art of balancing stones; and Earth Optimism in Cambridge, a day of inspiring talks by conservationists, and naturalists.
UK Green Film Festival, Nationwide
This nationwide celebration of environmental films explores green issues through films screened up and down the country at venues such as the Barbican in London, and the Glasgow Film Theatre. Check the website nearer the time for details.
Chelsea Fringe, London & nationwide
20 May – 4 June
This fabulous festival encompasses 16 days of gardening and botanical arts projects and events up and down the country. In London, enjoy the city’s first floating park on the Grand Union Canal – a green space for wildlife and Londoners with nectar-rich flower borders and decked seating platforms above the water; and wonder at nature-related art at the Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green, including sculpture, painting and photography.
Keswick Mountain Festival, Cumbria
Enjoy outdoor activities, competitive events, and live music amidst the majestic Lake District National Park. This family-friendly festival includes triathlons and cycling, swimming and running races, with all abilities catered for: whilst some runners will be content with the 5k lakeside run, the super fit might be willing to brave the gruelling Salomon Ultra 50k Trail Race, which takes runners up and over four mountain passes. Enjoy music from KT Tunstall, Cast, and the Peatbog Faeries, as well as guided activities, such as ghyll scrambling, navigation and fell walks.
Earth Fest Ireland, Co. Meath
This earth awareness festival is a celebration of nature over three days. Enjoy talks on sustainability, biodiversity, and organic biodynamic living; workshops on eco home building and crafts; and earth-centric ceremonies. Families are well catered for with activities and entertainment for kids, including story telling. There is a focus on healing during the day, including chanting meditation and sound therapy. At night poets and musicians will take to the stage, and the dancing will begin.
Green Gathering, Monmouthshire
One of the most established eco festivals in the UK, the Green Gathering (formerly the Big Green Gathering) is a celebration of the earth. Enjoy talks and workshops on green politics, eco crafts, renewable energy, and permaculture. Great music comes from politically conscious singers; folk, swing, reggae and punk bands; dance acts, and more. Take part in earth ceremonies and sacred chants, meditate in the peace dome, and relax in the healing field with yoga classes, massage and complementary therapies.
Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire
This family-friendly festival is a sophisticated party with a focus on great music, talks, outdoor fun, yoga and delicious food. Dance under the sun as Grace Jones, Two Door Cinema Club, and Bonobo hit the main stage; enjoy jazz with Ronnie Scott’s, late night cabaret, hip hop karaoke and more. Foodies will not want to miss banquets by Yotam Ottolenghi and Nuno Mendes; there is family fun with children’s games, workshops and circus shows; Greenpeace and Oliver Morton will give environmental talks; and there is the opportunity to revel in the great outdoors with wild medicine walks, lake swimming, mindfulness walks, and trail runs.
Into The Wild Summer Festival, East Sussex
Get outside into the summer bloom to celebrate the wilds of nature at this family-friendly festival. During the day there will be talks, workshops and activities including wild games for kids, foraging, fire making, archery, gong baths, meditation, shamanism, dance, raw food, woodland theatre and yoga galore. And at night, beneath the stars, enjoy live music from around the world.