There’s a water footprint to almost everything that we do.
Most people can visibly see the water they directly use for things like running a tap or having a shower.
However, there’s also the ‘invisible’ water we use where water use is embodied in a product (further up the supply chain).
In the guide below, we explain both the visible and invisible water we use daily, and provide a breakdown of how much water usage each might involve.
Summary – The Invisible & Visible Water We Use Everyday
What Is Visible Water?
Example of visible water use are someone running a tap at home to wash their hands, or using a dishwasher to wash the dishes
What Is Invisible Water?
Invisible water is the water people don’t see, that people use indirectly
Invisible water is used at a different part of the product or activity life cycle i.e. it’s embodied in a product or service further up the supply chain, where it’s used to make and deliver that product or service to the end consumer
One example is the embodied water in the food we eat – water is used at the agricultural stage to grow/produce that food before it gets to supermarkets and consumers
thewaterweeat.com provides a good example of the water hidden in a piece of beef – the vast majority of it comes from the feed required to feed cattle, and the remainder comes from water the cattle need to drink, and finally water for servicing farmhouses and slaughterhouses.
Another example is the electricity we use at home, and the energy source that is combusted or used to generate that electricity at a power plant or industrial site
Even a bottle of water has an invisible water footprint to make the material (such as plastic) that the bottle is made of
Components Of Visible & Invisible Footprints
The main components of visible and invisible water usage are:
– Visible Water Footprint
Mainly made up of the water we directly use at home, such as for washing, cleaning and hygiene, drinking, cooking, and other home uses
– Invisible Water Footprint
Mainly made up of the water we use indirectly, such as:
The foods we eat, and the foods we waste, or throw out
The products and services we use (such as clothes and textiles, the electricity we use, and so on)
Visible vs Invisible Water Footprint – Which Footprint Is Bigger?
We’ve examined three different sets of data to try to get an answer to this question.
– Data Set 1
According to one set of data by thewaterweeat.com, people have an average daily water footprint of 3800 litres
The vast majority of water use – about 92% of a person’s daily water footprint – is indirectly with the foods people eat
A much smaller amount of water is used indirectly for the products people use, and also for direct domestic consumption.
– Data Set 2
According to a second set of data by insideenergy.org, the average person uses 1075 gallons of water per day for household use
The vast majority of water is used indirectly for both food and electricity.
Only a small amount is used for direct household use.
There is an asterisk on indirect water use for electricity though – the number can be much smaller, or sometimes higher, depending on technology and energy sources used.
– Data Set 3
The third data set indicates diet and food takes up the most water for the average American, with energy use in second
Products and home use are the two minor water users in the water footprint
livestrong.com have not delineated between direct and indirect water use, but their %’s are ‘Of an average American’s daily water footprint, 50% goes towards diet and food, 30% to energy, 10% to products and 10% to home use’
What Are The Largest Parts Of An Individual’s Daily Water Footprint?
From the data above, it might be accurate to say that the food we buy has the largest water footprint.
The electricity and energy we use, as well as the products we use might come in second.
The direct water we use at home might come in third, but in some instances might be similar to the water we use for products and services (and energy and electricity).
Foods That Use The Most Water
Everyday Products & Things That Use The Most Water
How An Individual Might Reduce Their Visible & Invisible Water Footprint
We include some potential ways an individual might reduce their visible and invisible water footprint at the bottom of this guide
Visible Water People Use
According to both of these sets of data, much less water is used in the visible water people use compared to the invisible water people use
According to thewaterweeat.com:
Domestic consumption in the household (drinking, cooking, washing) – 137 litres of water, per person, per day
35% is bathing and showering, 30% is flushing the toilet, 20% is laundry, 10% is cooking and drinking, and 5% is cleaning
According to insideenergy.org:
Direct household use (bathing, laundry, lawn, etc) – 100 gallons of water, per person, per day
Invisible Water People Use
Both sets of data have much higher water use for the food people buy than for visible water use
However, insideenergy.org has a much higher water usage amount for electricity use than thewaterweeat.com
Although, insideenergy.org notes the water footprint of electricity can vary depending on the energy source used
According to thewaterweeat.com:
The food people eat – 3496 litres of water, per day
Industrial products consumed, like paper, clothes, etc – 167 litres of water, per day
According to insideenergy.org:
Food production – 510 gallons, per person, per day
Household electricity – 465 gallons, per person, per day. But, this number can vary between 30 to 600 gallons, depending on the technology used
Which Foods & Drinks Use The Most Water?
We’ve previously put a guide together outlining how much water is takes to make different foods and beverages.
In general, beef might use a lot of water across different metrics, followed by other animal meats.
Grass fed beef might use less water than corn and grain fed beef (but, some people also question the conversion efficiency in the feed of different farmed animals)
So, meat heavy diets may be more water intensive in some instances.
However, some plant based foods can use more water when measuring by the nutritional units produced.
What Products & Everyday Things Use The Most Water?
We outline how much water it might take to produce electricity from different energy sources, and look at the potential water use of other products like cars, shoes, t shirts, and more.
We also put together a guide specifically about how much water individual energy sources use.
Reducing An Individual’s Visible & Invisible Water Footprint
Three potential ways an individual may reduce their visible and invisible water footprint might be:
– Food, & Food Waste
Reducing beef intake (to say one day a week instead of 2 or more), or meat intake in general, may be one way. Although, an individual should consult a health professional before making changes to their current diet
Reducing food waste might be another way , as well as reducing the amount of food an individual unnecessarily throws out
– Products & Services, & Electricity
Buying textiles and clothing to last, instead of engaging in fast fashion, as well as using energy sources for electricity that are more water efficient may help
– Direct Water Use At Home
2. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides