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Death By Drops: The Compounding Of Water Loss

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In partnership with the AVEX #ItTakesADrop project, GearJunkie presents an article series on people and brands leading the way to preserve our most precious resource: water.

That cotton shirt took 800 gallons of water to make. And Thanksgiving dinner? That will take 42,000 gallons.


Illustrating the importance of freshwater conservation will require some numbers. Some big numbers:

Brain Drain

  • On average, the U.S. uses 400 billion gallons of water — each day
  • A faucet drip (once per second) sends 3,000 gallons down the drain in a year
  • A spiral notebook uses 264 gallons of water to produce
  • Every box of wine at the liquor store required 800 gallons of fresh water
  • For electrical power production, 200 billion gallons of water are taken from the Great Lakes every day
  • American toilets flush 5.7 billion gallons a day

The facts on water usage in this article were aggregated from Peter McBride, Kristian Gustavson, the EPA, National Geographic, and Seametrics, a private flow-meter manufacturer.

What Does It Look Like?

The need to conserve water is a hot topic in some areas, one that we all know and probably don’t much consider. After all, there are aisles of bottled water at every grocery store and gas station in America.

But the wealth of bottled H20 — and the reliable rush of water with every turn of the faucet — belie a world that is steadily depleting its fresh drinking water.

A vessel left beached after a 2011 drought in Texas's Lake Travis, part of the Colorado River. Photo by Erik A. Ellison

For 6 million years, the Colorado River ran to the sea. Since 1998, it has not.

Peter McBride is an author, photographer, and filmmaker whose passion for water conservation stems from a boyhood quest. In 2010, he pursued his dream to paddle the Colorado River from source to sea.

What he discovered cast a stark light on humans’ huge appetite for water. “When I saw the Colorado River run dry, some 100 miles from the sea, it hit me how serious this issue is and how under-reported it is,” he told us.

The incredible energy and water demands of western America have literally sucked dry the mouth of the once abundant Colorado River. It is perhaps the most visible example of an impending worldwide shortage.

Fortunately, McBride’s tireless crusade to funnel Earth’s most abundant yet precarious resource into the limelight is working. Slowly but surely, we are all tightening our faucets and shortening our showers.


“People are starting to become more aware,” McBride said. “Being less wasteful needs to be more sexy or at least common.”

But, how do we do that?


McBride is a self-proclaimed “reductionarian.” That covers everything “from my yard size, to water-intensive foods I eat, to letting the hose or faucet run freely.”

“We are dealing with a limited resource that can be re-used with water recycling techniques like grey water [from] showers.”

All the water going into your home is potable. You can drink from your faucet, the downstairs bathtub, and the hose out back. But once that water has been used, it doesn’t necessarily become unusable.

Water that has been used in sinks and showers is dubbed “grey water.” One of the smartest ways to reduce your own water use is to implement grey water recycling in and around your home.

It’s no longer fit for consumption, but it is 100 percent safe for watering the lawn and garden. Check out resources like Grey Water Action to set up your own collection.

2,000x Cheaper To Reuse

water bottles

Being a reductionarian has advantages beyond just saving the planet. It saves you money, too.

Sure, as McBride notes, switching from bottled water to a reusable bottle like one from AVEX would “save on single-use plastics that are ending up in our waterways and the ocean, and make more people conscious of their water use.”

But reducing your consumption of single-use plastics basically puts money in your bank account. For the cost of one 99-cent bottle of water at the store, you could refill a half-liter reusable 1,740 times from the tap.

Inside And Outside

Did you know that by cutting your showers short by one minute, you could save 40 gallons of water each month?

Easing back on water waste inside your home is simple and intuitive. But real gains are made not when we reduce water usage, but when we change the habits that demand water in the first place.

“Many say our largest reservoir of water is conservation,” McBride affirmed. “There are trends in the southwest of the U.S. to use ‘smartscaping’ practices, more indigenous, less water consumptive crops, which have proved successful.”

It ought not seem like such a novel idea — the plants that require the least deliberate watering are those endemic to the area.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an average of five gallons of water used outside is wasted every minute. The Agency has a terrific resource to identify what’s best to plant in your part of the country to minimize water needs.

The Food Cycle

The water demands of our diets are staggering. The average hamburger requires 700 gallons to make. That translates to nearly 1,800 gallons per pound of beef.

“We have to eat, and we want to eat locally, too,” McBride said. “Yet paying attention to how we consume is key as everything we do relates to water on some level.”

Translation: Constantly consider what you’re using and consuming because water is in all of it.

Instead of beef, consider chicken (500 gallons per pound), or tofu (302 gallons).

And while you’re mindful of what you’re putting in, finish the cycle by saving water in what you put out. As noted above, 5.7 billion gallons goes down the tubes in America every day from flushing. That’s 8,600 Olympic-size swimming pools — every day.

An easy water-saving tip: Reduce water used per flush by filling a half-gallon jug with rocks and placing it in the toilet tank. That way each flush wastes less as the tank refills.

Knowing what your water use is, where that water comes from, and where it is going makes us all better “reductionarians.”

“We have a long way to go,” McBride said. “But this is a start.”

–This article is brought to you by AVEX, makers of reusable, performance travel bottles. Learn more about AVEX products and the company’s #ItTakesADrop campaign.

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