EarthTalk: I heard that my food choices can
affect the use and therefore availability of fresh water
around the world. How so?
—Denise Beck, Washington, DC
are the largest consumers of fresh water in the
U.S. and in many other countries. Researchers for
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's
2006 report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,”
concluded that 2,400 liters of water go into the
production of one hamburger, while only 25 liters
are needed to produce a potato.
food choices and the availability of fresh water are inextricably
linked. The crux of the problem is that human population
numbers keep growing—we recently topped seven billion
people worldwide—yet the amount of fresh water available
remains finite. And growing food and raising livestock to
feed increasing numbers of humans takes a great deal of
water. Worldwide, some 70 percent of fresh water is used
for agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) estimates that, by 2050, two-thirds of
the people on the planet will lack clean water to meet even
to the Vegetarian Resource Group, the livestock industry
is the largest user of fresh water in the U.S. and in many
other countries. The billions of livestock animals raised
for food around the world each year consume substantial
amounts of water directly. The industry also negatively
impacts the replenishment of fresh water through the compaction
of soil, the degradation of banks along watercourses, the
clearing of forests to expand grazing, and other factors.
even larger issue is the water needed to grow the feed that
livestock eat. Researchers for the 2006 FAO report “Livestock’s
Long Shadow” report that 2,400 liters of water go
into the production of one hamburger, while only 25 liters
are needed to produce a potato. Likewise, a cheese pizza
requires 1,200 liters of water—given the drinking,
cleaning and feed needs of dairy cows—while a tomato
pizza only needs 300.
meat consumption would be a surefire way to save vast amounts
of fresh water, and switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet
is one way an individual can make a big impact on water
consumption. “On average, a vegan, a person who eats
no meat or dairy, indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons
of water per day less than a person who eats the average
American diet,” reports Sandra Postel, director of
the Global Water Policy Project and the lead water expert
on the National Geographic Society’s Freshwater Initiative.
those loathe to giving up meat entirely should consider
switching to only grass-fed beef. According to Postel, it
takes some 5,300 liters of fresh water for every dollar’s
worth of grain fed to a typical beef cow, while the water
required to feed grass-fed cattle falls on the pasture from
the sky, meaning it is free and does not deplete groundwater
reserves at all. “Not all burgers are created equal,”
adds that another way to cut down on one’s water footprint
would be to give up or cut back on coffee: One cup takes
some 55 gallons of water to make, with most of used to grow
the coffee beans.
organic food can also help keep an individual’s indirect
water consumption in check. Organic farming techniques conserve
water both by using less, increasing the water-holding capacity
of soils and reducing erosion as well as by not polluting
nearby water bodies with run-off from synthetic chemical
Long Shadow; Global
Water Policy Project; National
Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: I like the feel of carpeting, but
I’m concerned about all the chemicals. What are some
good non-chemical (but still soft!) options?
—Jennifer Jones, Madison, WI
typical carpet, made from petroleum-based synthetic
fibers, contains dozens of chemicals, gases, volatile
organic compounds (VOCs) and other potential toxins—and
they can compromise indoor air quality for years
on end and cause dangerous reactions in the sensitive
among us, including little ones and the elderly.
Modern day carpets,
in all their plush and stain-resistant glory, are wonders
of technology and help make our homes and workplaces more
comfortable. But the typical carpet, made from petroleum-based
synthetic fibers, contains dozens of chemicals and gases,
including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other potential
toxins—and they can compromise indoor air quality
for years on end and cause dangerous reactions in the sensitive
among us, including little ones and the elderly.
there are many green options when it comes to carpeting
and alternative floor coverings. Green Depot—the nation’s
leading supplier of environmentally friendly building products,
services and home solutions with 13 retail stores nationwide—sells
a lot of wool carpeting, which is typically all-natural,
renewable and is the most logical option for those who want
the look and feel of real carpet without the chemical impact.
Wool carpeting is pricier than synthetic, but those seeking
peace-of-mind might not mind paying a premium. Some leading
makers of all-natural wool carpeting include Bloomsburg,
Earth Weave, Helios, Natural Home and Woolshire. Wool is
also a great material for rug pads, as it dampens sound,
inhibits mold and provides insulation. Green Depot’s
favorite is Whisper Wool Underlayment.
Some other choices
in all-natural carpet include sisal, coir and seagrass—though
these all-natural materials tend to be harder than traditional
carpeting and as such might take some getting used to underfoot.
Contempo Floor Coverings is one of the leaders in this up-and-coming
segment of the flooring industry.
option is carpet tiles, because small sections rather than
entire carpets can be replaced when stains or other problems
occur. One particularly green carpet tile manufacturer is
FLOR, whose products are made with renewable, recycled and
recyclable content. The company also takes back its old
carpet tiles for recycling and reconstitution into new recycled
fibers and backing materials. FLOR’s products use
some synthetic materials, but most styles meet or exceed
the Carpet and Rug Institute’s “Green Label
Plus” standards for low VOCs.
offers yet another option for synthetic carpeting made from
recycled and recyclable materials, while Mohawk’s
Aladdin carpet is made from recycled PET soda bottles.
in one form or another is no doubt the softest option, cork
flooring is also warm and somewhat cushy. Cork is inherently
green because it’s made from the bark of the cork
oak tree which grows back every three years with little
to no fertilizer or pesticides needed. It’s also resistant
to mildews, molds and other unwelcome microbes. Cork flooring
is also a nice choice to “warm up” kitchen and
bathroom floors. U.S. Floors offers a wide variety of cork
and other sustainable flooring options.
Of course, keeping
tidy is also key to a healthy indoor environment: Frequent
vacuuming of rugs and cleaning of flooring can help reduce
exposure to toxins like lead and pesticides that can be
tracked in from outside. Using doormats and removing shoes
when coming inside can also help mitigate such risks.
Carpet and Rug Institute; Greenfloors.com;