Are Craft Breweries Part of the Answer in Reducing Waste Water

We spend the majority of our year on the Union College campus, so it would be insane to assume that every single one of us remains unaware of the massive number of cases of beer consumed per weekend here. However, the amount of water used, and wasted, to produce such a college staple might surprise many of us. In an article by Justin Solomon for CNBC in which it is revealed that five barrels of water go into every barrel of beer made by MillerCoors. In a full barrel there is, approximately, thirty one gallons of beer. So that would mean that one hundred and fifty five gallons of water go into producing 31 gallons of beer, and these, reportedly, were the companies more water conscious numbers. Good, but not great.

Now we have a possible solution to all of the unnecessary water waste coming out of an, honestly, unnecessary product. An article by Cassandra Profita for NPR reporting that some small craft breweries in Oregon, the Portland area, have been assembled to use a form of highly treated, “high purity” wastewater produced by a Oregon water treatment facility. The facility, Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, has reportedly developed technology that can treat sewage to a point where it is safe for human consumption. The technology involves a three step system of ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, and enhanced oxidization. In order to get that ball rolling they enlisted thirteen local brewers in a competition to make beer using the treated wastewater, after being approved by the state of Oregon as a safe practice. The purified water that was used in the competition was thirty percent treated and filtered wastewater, but the ultimate goal for the company is to have brewers using one hundred percent recycled wastewater.

The goal for this experiment, and a healthy lesson for us all to learn, is that people need to come to terms with using recycled water for everyday activities before a major draught forces them to do so. Beer is by no means a necessity, but somehow it seems easier to approach major issues (like water management) through the means of something unnecessary. Sometimes, those are where the best answers are found.

Front Lawns: They’re dumb.

I never understood the point of a front lawn. Its honestly just a green square that no one plays on, grills on, reads on, celebrates on, spends time on etc.. It’s just like a backyard with none of the purpose. All that  strip of grass says is that the people who own that grass could afford to pay their water bill that month. According to an article published by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the origin of modern lawns originated in the English gardens of the British nobility through the 17th and 18th centuries. Although, the lawn that we know andsee today was made widespread in North America by the production of the lawnmower in the 19th century. This Western phenomena has resulted in 30-40 millions acres of land used solely on lawns which has contributed to not only 5% of the nation’s air pollution through lawn maintenance (due to lawnmowers); more than 17 million gallons of fuel spill, excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, but are responsible for consuming 30-60% of our urban fresh water. This water is used irresponsibly due to the poor application and timing of sprinkler systems.

One solution proposed by this article is xeriscaping, which is a kind of landscaping and gardening that “reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation” ( This kind of gardening is promoted in regions that do not have easy access to a reliable fresh water source. Other solutions proposed by the EPA are not overwatering your grass by only watering it when the grass does not bounce back under foot; an investment in an irrigation contractor that can reassure that your system is working efficiently; a wether-based irrigation system; and landscaping with only plants that are native to the local climate.


Water Sense, sponsored by the EPA has reported that that the “The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day, and about 30% of that s devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens.” Although, they also reported that if a household were to implement a weather-based irrigation schedule a household can reduce their outdoor water use by 15%, and ultimately saving up to 37 gallons of water everyday. That means that, according to these statistics, 7.5732 billion gallons of water is produced by the 126.22 million households in America (according to the U.S. census) are devoted to lawns and gardening. Although, once this weather-based irrigation system is applied this reduction of 15% of urban fresh-water use would save us 1.13598 billion gallons of water everyday.



Bottled Water at Union

I used to be a bottled water guy. It was always cold, and guaranteed to be clean.

It was simple. When I was thirsty, I got a bottle of water. Drink, dehydrate over the course of a few hours, repeat. Though it varied from day to day, I would estimate I used to drink about 5-6, 16.9 fl oz. bottles of water every day. For those of us who like to try to show our mathematical prowess by completing simple equations, that’s 84.5-101.4 fl oz. of water a day.

Which, in the grander scheme of things, is roughly the suggested intake of water on a daily basis (currently 91 fl oz.). Yet, I was wasting all the plastic that had to contain that water, one plastic bottle at a time. I stopped drinking bottled water when I started actively trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I bought a reusable bottle, and I fill it up periodically from a fountain.

But in the case of the broader Union community, I see people with bottled water all the time. As I sit here writing, I count 4 people around me with plastic bottled water in some form or another. And I didn’t even count a fifth, who has a cardboard box of water, which proclaims itself to be “better” because “Boxed Water is Better”.

Let’s assume the average Union student drinks the suggested daily value of water, and Union has roughly 2,200 undergrad students. Let’s say half (being generous) consume bottled water while the other half consumes water more responsibly.

(1/2) x (2,200)=(1,110)…(1,110) x (5.5)=(6,105)

Following this logic, Union’s student body on a daily basis consumes over 6,000 bottles of water. That’s a staggering number. Even more staggering: the sheer cost of producing so many bottles of water.

According to a February 2007 Pacific Institute Report: “Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide…It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.”

This is, of course, not to mention what happens to these 6,000+ bottles of water afterwards. Are any re-used? What percentage are even recycled?

Drinking water should begin follow the same tagline as their counterparts in the alcohol industry.

Drink Responsibly.


Water Sustainability and Food Choices

Thinking about what I want to eat for dinner, I don’t often consider how my choices are impacting the environment. The agriculture and livestock industries require massive amounts of water; with this said, some choices for dinner are more environmentally sustainable than others. According to Kai Olson-Sawyer, a Senior Research and Policy Analyst in the GRACE Water and Energy Programs, “the total amount of water needed – to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons of water; one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. As a comparison, the water footprint of soybeans is 216 gallons; corn is 108 gallons”. Thinking about the amount of fresh water required to raise livestock vs grow crops, choosing a plant-based diet is much better for long-term environmental sustainability, due to the extreme strain on our water resources from the livestock. The extensive amount of water required to raise animals comes partially from how much the animals need to eat and drink, as well as the number of animals that are produced in our massive food industry, especially in the United States. Due to the large differences in water requirements for production, plant-based diets contribute to much better environmental sustainability than diets that include meat.

Click here for the article link. 

Changing the Course of Water Sustainability

Sustainability efforts continue to rise as awareness of the ecosystem’s demise becomes more of a global priority. Due to the increasing efforts, the need to identify the most effective plans of attack is also increasing. In terms of water sustainability, Will Sarni has identified three ways the course of water sustainability changed in 2017.

One of the most notable changes is the increasing efforts to more efficient tracking of water data. New public policies, like California’s “Open and Transparent Water Data Act,” require a statewide platform that combines various databases in order to provide the public with the most comprehensive water and ecological platform possible. The collaborative database highlights numerous issues, like water scarcity and climate change, that otherwise may go unnoticed. Other technological advances include more powerful sensors that track water quality, water usage, asset management, and water utility economics. The new technology can also provide a more accurate set of predictive analytics, keeping the public as updated as possible.

Although we are heading in a positive direction, certain large corporations continue to be huge contributors to the negative water usage. In an investigation by Christine MacDonald, Coca-Cola is identified as a huge source of false advertisement talking about its own sustainability efforts.

The company promised in an advertisement in The New York Times that “For every drop we use, we give one back.” Coca-Cola conducted a self assessment of their product which revealed that it took 35 Liters of water to make every half liter of Coke. The company promised in 2007 that its goal was to sustainably source 100% of key agricultural ingredients, but the follow through on this promise has been seriously lacking.

Coca-Cola isn’t the only offender of over using water. MacDonald reported that it takes 712 gallons of water to produce a single t-shirt and 462 gallons to produce a quarter-pound hamburger. People don’t realize how much water it takes even to produce the simplest of things. In the United States alone, the per capita Water Footprint is 2,060 gallons a day.


The Water Footprint of Alfalfa and Meat

Agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in California. This mainly accounts for the growing of the plant Alfalfa. Alfalfa is a plant grown to feed livestock. Beef consists of a large portion of the American diet. In order to feed these animals the production of Alfalfa is increased significantly due to the increase in demand for a beef hungry diet. Beef has a water footprint of 4 million gallons per ton produced. This is far more than any other crop.

Additionally, the way that meat is being produced today is different than it was decades ago. Because the meat is not being handled the same way, when it does not reach standards of the FDA this also means that water is wasted. According to a New York Times article, when 8.7 million pounds of beef are wasted that is roughly equivalent to 631.6 million gallons of water wasted. That is equivalent to about 15 million barrels.

If we relied less on a meat heavy diet and replaced 50% of the animal products normally consumed, there would be a 30% decrease in an individual’s water footprint. If individuals had a vegetarian diet, their water footprint would be decreased even more to about 60%. Seeking out less meat hungry diets will help to conserve the amount of water used for Alfalfa.

The Water Footprint of Livestock

After researching the effects of raising livestock and poultry for meat, I found that the negative consequences were even worse than I expected. The total amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons of water and one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. (Food Tank). As a comparison, the water footprint of soybeans only takes 216 gallons of water. Beef requires the largest amount of water because the bigger the animal, the more resources required such as more drinking water and water to clean etc. However, the resources that beef requires goes way beyond just water. The thousands of pounds of food cows are fed such as corn require large quantities of fertilizers, land, and fuel for farming machines, and lead to more fossil fuels and pollution. This ties into our class discussion about how cows produce large amounts of methane.

This issue is important because global meat production has doubled and will continue this upward trend. It is difficult to suggest people to become vegetarian, but reducing meat intake by 1/3 could lead to a 1/3 reduction in water usage. There is not a single human activity that affects the planet more than raising livestock.

This photo gives a visual of how water usage sky rockets due to the consumption of beef.


Water footprints

We have discussed the CO2 emissions of beef and naturally, the amount of water it takes to produce this beef by raising cattle is extraordinarily high. However, it is just just cows that contribute to our global water footprint, every product does, but especially animal products which require so much water to raise an animal. The Water Footprint Network provides an interactive model that shows how much water it takes to produce many of the foods and products we use daily, including chicken.

According to the article, the average water footprint of chicken is 4330 L/kg, or about 519 gal/lb. Although this quantity is less than other common animals such as cows (15,400 L/kg) or pigs (6000 L/kg). It is important to use tools like this to visualize how our food choices impact the global water footprint.

Fighting Water Waste

Give an example of water waste (in U.S. or other countries). Make suggestions for reducing water waste and quantify the amount of water that could be saved.


According to an article in The Washington Post, Americans wasted 1 trillion gallons of water in the year 2015. But how much really is 1 trillion gallons? Our water waste accounts for 9% of the water needed to solve the California drought problem, which has a deficit of 11 trillion gallons of water. It is also equal to 40 million swimming pools, 24 billion baths, or Lake Okeechobee in Florida.


The EPA states that a lot of the water we waste is due to leaks. The average household wastes nearly 10,000 gallons of water per year due to leaks. Ten percent of households waste more than 90 gallons of water per day due to leaks. Not only does this waste American’s water, leaks also waste American’s money. Fixing household leaks is both cost effective and an effective way of reducing waste.


Besides household leaks, there are a number of other ways to reduce our water waste. Making small changes to our lifestyles is one way to effectively reduce water waste. Individuals can try and take shorter showers, or even turning off their water after wetting their toothbrushes. In addition, I believe more water saving toilets should be installed in public bathrooms, as well as in households, in order to reduce waste. The toilets in our Reamer Campus Center are designed with two different flush settings and help reduce the amount of water used when going to the bathroom. I think that if more of these toilets were installed on campus in places like dorms and Minervas, the Union College community could effectively reduce our water waste.

The Ecological Impact of Almonds

Do you substitute half&half with almond milk? Or do you snack on almonds for a quick stomach fill? Well, I do. Oddly enough, I have never considered the ecological footprint for the production of almonds, have you? Well, according to the well-regarded California Almonds Organization, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond. In a classic serving size, there are 23 almonds. This calculates to 25.3 gallons of water used to make only 1 serving of almonds. The amount of water used per one serving of almonds is more than quadruple the amount of water used for an efficient dishwasher to run or for an efficient toilet to flush according to the in class activity. Also, 99% of the total production of almonds comes from California. California also produces 80% of the world’s production. As California is in a current drought, and the fact that almonds require 10% of California’s total water supply each year, one could say that this statistic is astounding. But, if you were to purchase 1 quart size container of almond milk, and use it for your cereal or in your coffee, you are consuming less than half of a serving of almonds, which is about 12.7 gallons of water, which is comparable to 5 loads of laundry. The effect of the amount of water required for almonds must be relatively compared, like all products. This is exemplified by comparing the amount of water required to produce 1 gram of protein from almonds and beef. For almonds, 1 gram of protein requires 4 gallons of water, while for 1 gram of beef; 27 gallons of water are needed. As for water amount, it takes 6 times less the amount of water to produce protein out of almonds than it is from beef.