Here at FAVES, we are fighting food waste in the US. However, there is another precious resource that we are wasting. A resource that we rely on for survival. That resource is water. Like many of our natural resources on Earth, people often believe water to be an unlimited resource. However, fresh water is a limited resource. Only about 3% of the total water on our planet is freshwater – the very water we drink and use to grow crops (1). It is found in our lakes, reservoirs, rivers, ice, and even underground. It is considered limited because we are using it at a rate much higher than it can be naturally replenished. This rapid loss of water means that if we do not reduce our water usage or find a sustainable way to get more of it – we will eventually begin to run out. This loss could mean chaos, considering how much of our livelihoods depend on it.
Water is something that we rely on for much more than just hydrating — many of our systems, such as power, agriculture, etc. , also use water. Irrigation and thermodynamic power use more freshwater than any other system in this country (2), and within the home, the average American uses roughly 88 gallons of water a day (3). Much of our water use in the US is necessary, like generating electricity; however, a large portion of it never goes to good use – that is what we consider water waste.
The majority of water usage in the United States is due to the agricultural department, meaning growing crops and raising animals for the sake of food. The US Department of Agriculture is accountable for about 70% of the use of our freshwater supplies in the US. Additionally, this very department is the most significant water waste source in this country, but the majority of the lost water is not due to leaks or evaporation. That begs the question – where is it all going?
Much of the water being wasted in the US is a result of food waste. Food waste is an issue that the FAVES team is fighting to change. We are losing over 1.3 billion tons of food every year – and when you waste food, you are also wasting the water used to produce, package, transport, and store it as well. The water that is wasted from food waste alone comes out to roughly 45 trillion tons of water wasted around the world each year (4). To put that into perspective, that is enough water to fill every NFL and Division 1 college football stadium with water, and then again nearly 300 times over (5). Every country wastes food in one way or another. Less developed countries lack the infrastructure to properly farm and transport food, meaning they waste most of their food production. Like the US, wealthier countries waste the most food at the consumer level, meaning in the home, at restaurants, etc. Therefore, there is a lot of both food and water waste that is easily preventable in our country.
There is another way we are wasting water; however, that is impacting the lives of many US citizens. Water contamination occurs when human-related impact causes a source of our freshwater supply to become unsafe for human consumption. This issue was made famous by the Flint, Michigan water crisis that came to public attention in 2014. Flint’s community started reporting lead poisoning cases – a crisis caused by the eroding of lead-based pipes that transport their municipal water. This issue is not exclusive to Flint; in fact, nearly a fifth of US citizens were exposed to contaminated water in the past decade (6). Contamination of our limited fresh water supplies means that there is less available for the people and systems that need it, affecting the health and well-being of communities all over the country.
Although the issue of water waste may seem daunting, many groups and organizations are working tirelessly to find a solution. One such organization is 501cTHREE. They are a non-profit organization that works to bring drinkable water to communities, like Flint, that live with contaminated public water supplies. They transport large stores of clean water to these affected areas in their water boxes, while also providing these communities with jugs to transport the clean water back to their homes. Their water boxes deliver up to 10 gallons of water per minute, and they have provided over 20,000 of those gallons to Flint since March 2020 alone.
Here at FAVES, we also work to find a solution. We are rescuing fruits and vegetables from waste and turning them into a shelf-stable candy. By reducing food waste, we are also working to reduce water waste. We unite with organizations, like 501cTHREE, under a common goal – to help the health of both people and the planet. Humans are not the only ones depending on fresh water for survival. It is a vital component to maintaining our worlds fragile ecosystems, which is why it must be protected. There is much work to be done to do so. We urge you to try and reduce water and food waste however you can from home. This will leave more of these precious resources for people, like those in Flint, who desperately need it!