'Water footprints' and how much water is in your hamburger

Published: Thursday, July 12 2012 8:11 a.m. MDT

A clip from a video by the European Union's Imagine all the Water website shows a few of the 4,786 balloons, each filled with a half liter of water, that were used to illustrate how much water is used in producing a cheeseburger.

European Union's Imagine all the Water website

Hamburgers are juicier than you may think. Fast Company's Co.Exist website, FastCoExist.com, looks at a new video by the European Union:

"Hamburgers, like many enjoyable things in life, have a resource-intensive production process. In addition to meat, burger production requires water — lots of it. The USGS estimates that it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a juicy hamburger, depending on conditions that cows are raised in. The water doesn't go directly into your burger; rather, it is used to feed, hydrate and service cows."

Fast Co. links to a video showing the 2,393 liters (632 gallons) used to make what looks like a cheeseburger (look for it at YouTube.com/GenerationAwake). To illustrate how much water it is, they put half a liter into 4,786 balloons and make a colorful illustration of a cheeseburger on a warehouse floor.

The European Union is worried about water consumption and is trying to get people to think about how much water goes into their hamburgers and other items. It has a website called ImagineAllTheWater.eu/EN that shows how much water it takes to make things:

  • 1 T-shirt = 659 gallons
  • 1 slice of bread = 13 gallons
  • 1 pair of jeans = 2,637 gallons
The video is to raise awareness and advertise a contest to make more videos about water consumption. And it tells how it used the water in the balloons to water plants and so forth.

What the website did not mention, however, is how much water it takes to manufacture all those balloons used in the video about saving water. Using the figure of 300 gallons to produce a pound of rubber and the weight of a balloon, it takes about 127 U.S. fluid ounces to make a single balloon.

So the 4,786 balloons in the video took 4,748 gallons to manufacture — which is enough water to produce 7.5 hamburgers.

Although calculating the water wasted in making a video about wasting water might be a bit fun, as the EU's Imagine All the Water website explains, there are serious reasons why people should consider the "water footprint" of the products people buy.

"It's our indirect footprint that not only accounts for the vast majority of the water we consume but can impact directly on the lives of people on the other side of the world, particularly if the products we buy have been produced with water taken from a water-scarce river basin," the website's PDF Guide says.

"There are lots of simple things we can do to reduce our indirect water consumption," it adds. "For example, we can waste less food, eat less meat or buy fewer T-shirts or shoes each year. Or we can buy more secondhand products instead of newly manufactured ones, use more recycled paper, buy local and seasonal food, and reduce our consumption of products with high sugar content."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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