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Green Column by Sharad Agarwal
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Ecological Eye Openers : Why Using Less Paper and Plastic Means Using Less Water

To anyone on the West Coast of the US, the drought conditions currently ongoing can seem like the worst in the world. They aren't. From South America to Africa and Asia, several countries around the world are experiencing conditions of drought not seen in decades. Scientists studying weather patterns believe that these trends are the beginning of an overall shift in global climate.

Water conservation is the obvious first step to take. It can be a complicated endeavor, however.

Most people do not think of invisible water

Perhaps you take quick showers, use energy-efficient appliances, and have a water-conserving lawn. While these are very good steps to take for water conservation, it's important to understand that it isn't just these obvious uses of water that one needs to aim for in one's conservation efforts.

Only 8% of the world's freshwater is applied to domestic use. About three times more goes to industrial use and eight times the amount goes to irrigation. Every product of industrial processes that one uses represents a significant drain on the planet's water resources. Conservationists speak of virtual or invisible water to describe such indirect use of water in this way. Average individual use of invisible water tends to top domestic use. To work on water conservation in a meaningful way, it's important to turn one's sights to such indirect use.

What kind of water conservation may be possible?

The use of fabric: A large proportion of the water used for irrigation purposes goes to cotton and wool production, important staples of the fashion industry. The manufacture of one cotton T-shirt uses up 1,000 gallons of water. Far more water is ruined forever in the dyeing process.

The use of plastic: It takes 25 gallons of water to manufacture a pound of plastic. A bottle of mineral water may not use more than an ounce of plastic, but the molding process applied to the manufacture of a single gallon-bottle takes as much as 2 gallons of water.

The use of paper: While it's easy to take for granted the use of a napkin, a length of toilet paper or a shopping bag, the paper that these products are made of has a disproportionate environmental footprint. It takes 37 gallons of water, a couple of pounds of tree wood and more than a kilowatt-hour of energy to produce a single roll of toilet paper.

Do you care for the environment as much as your local factory?

Big, ugly, smoking factories may not seem a paragon of environmentally friendly practice, but they are. American industry has improved resource efficiency to the point that it has been able to reduce water use by 30% over the past 30 years. Nearly no individual could point to such impressive figures. To anyone who feels that it's too much trouble to make big changes to their lives, a look to the average factory for inspiration is all it takes.

In many ways, though, it only takes a few painless steps in the right direction to make an earnest start.

Turn away from disposable paper

Switching to e-books and applying for e-bills for every service that you subscribe to are the easiest changes to make. Single-use paper products, toilet paper and kitchen napkins are another area of easy change. In the kitchen, usable cloth napkins can take the place of paper. In the toilet, using a bidet instead of a roll of toilet paper can go a long way towards water conservation as well, not to mention the conservation of money. The average person uses 20 rolls of toilet paper in a year. According to, vendors of some of the best bidet toilet seat products on the market today, switching to water from one of these bathroom fixtures could save on nearly 1,000 gallons of invisible water consumption each year. There would also be a not inconsiderable $25 saved per person.

Buy fewer clothes, but go for quality

Switching away from cotton fabrics helps the environment in some measure. It also helps to spend your money on higher-quality purchases, making sure that your clothes last longer.

Make a conscious choice against plastic

It can be very hard to stop using plastic because unlike paper or fabric, its use is everywhere - from the snack that you get out of the vending machine to takeout at the restaurant and practically every item on the shelves of supermarkets. While you could certainly switch to cloth shopping bags, it can take much more effort elsewhere. Making sure that the restaurants that you order from use recyclable packaging would be one step in the right direction. It would be even better to switch to cooking at home.

Dedicating yourself to water conservation can be hard; adopting some of the easiest measures available to you, however, can by help make for a great start.

Tom Norton likes to be as green as possible in his day-to-day life. He works as a sales assistant at a bathroom showroom, and in his spare time is a keen writer of articles and short stories.


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