titles matter

The L.A. Times recently posted an op-ed featuring nine water experts’ opinions on ways to save water. The article is titled “Shorter Showers? Nine more ways the State has to change its ways”.

Not including the expert who thinks that we are wasting water by allocating millions of gallons to environmental conservation, I found only one glaring issue with this compilation article.

The title.

The title of this piece is incredibly misleading. Despite being useful and effective, all of the experts’ suggestions are based on infrastructure and policy changes on a state level. These writings discuss solutions that could save billions of gallons of water, none of which are comparable in the slightest to shorter showers. Taking a shorter shower saves about 20 gallons of water. Don’t get me wrong, all the water we use matters, every single gallon. But not only are these not fair comparisons, the title belittles the contributions that people can individually make towards water conservation.

None of the experts attempted to tackle the issue of individual water use. None of them discussed how one person can help reduce water mismanagement and water waste, or how small changes in individual behavior have the potential to help conserve water on a macro scale. But individual water use is an important part of water conservation that must be addressed.

Our individual water use is not limited to the water that comes out of our faucets and hoses. Much of our water is represented in virtual water. Most often, you will hear about virtual water in regard to food choices, as various food items use different amounts of water to produce. But I want to talk about a different type of virtual water.

Plastic water bottles.

If you want to reduce your water waste on a larger scale, stop using disposable plastic water bottles.

The water used in disposable water bottles is often bottled in regions of severe drought, many of them in California. This practice is damaging for a variety of reasons, including the water pumping process itself, which is typically loosely regulated and tested at a less frequent rate than tap water. But it’s not just about the water in the bottle.
It takes 1.29 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. It takes another 5-6 liters to make the plastic packaging. That means a single liter of bottled water actually takes more than 7 liters of water to produce, not including the actual water in the bottle. Those cute little 8-oz bottles of water actually use more than a liter and a half each.But it’s not just about the production. The delivery trucks that deliver plastic water bottles represent hundreds of miles of fuel and it also requires water to produce that fuel, approximately 9.5 liters of water for each gallon of gas.  And of course, the problem continues even after you get your water. Only about 23% of water bottles in the U.S. are actually recycled, which means more than 38 billion bottles are not recycled. Those bottles have two potential destinations: a landfill or the ocean, both of which compromise our water supply even further. However you look at it, plastic water bottles are hugely damaging to our vital and limited water resources.

Voting for policy change is important, but those decisions are not directly up to the people. Saying no to the plastic water bottle is a significant way to reduce your water use and you don’t have to run for Congress or audit the State Water Resources Control Board meetings to do so. Shorter showers are great, but choosing to say no to systemically wasteful practices like disposable plastic water bottles is a powerful action we can all individually take in our own lives, right now.

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