I love water. I’m a sea-kayaker and get out into it every chance I get. Candidly, when I’m out there I don’t think about water conservation. There just seems to be so much of it. An ocean of water, and it seems endless. But recently, because of a desire to be as ‘green’ and conservation-minded as possible these days, I have been thinking about another kind of water-fresh water. The kind that we drink and use in the course of our daily lives. So I’ve been doing some research into how much water we use and how much water is needed for us to enjoy the quality of life that we do here in America. The results are sobering.
Last week I wrote about how much fresh water we use (in our homes) just going through the motions of everyday life. The average family of four using 600 gallons of fresh water a week was a real surprise. There was some good news, however. We found that we could control a lot of our usage. Today’s blog is, sad to say, about much of what you and I cannot control. It’s about how much water is used in the production of the food we eat. I guess it’s more informative than anything, and is meant to be educational.
Let’s take an average meal at a restaurant as an illustration of just how much fresh water goes into putting that food on your plate. You go to your favorite restaurant and look over the menu. You decide to get a steak. It comes with a baked potato and corn-on-the-cob. With it you have a glass of wine, and finish-off with a cup of coffee. Pretty standard stuff. So, how much fresh water does it take to put that steak dinner on your plate? But before I tell you, I need to let you know that my intent isn’t to make you enjoy your meal any less, it’s to help you enjoy it more, to appreciate it more. We live in a country, despite all of the problems that are dished-up to us daily through the news, where we have the blessing of enjoying meals that take an enormous amount of water, just to get it to our plate. This will surprise you.
1. Your steak: In order to put-up one pound of beef, it requires 1,799 gallons (6,810 liters) of water! That’s 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) of grain for feed, plus irrigation water; 36.2 pounds (16.4 kilograms) of roughage or grasses for feed, plus irrigation water; 18.6 gallons (70.5 liters) of additional water for drinking and processing. You read this right. That’s close to 1,800 gallons of water for every pound of beef we eat!
2. The baked potato: In order to get one pound of potatoes it takes 119 gallons (450 liters) of water. Think about this: Worldwide potato production soaks up about 0.2 trillion cubic feet (6.5 billion cubic meters) of water annually. Potato production accounts for 0.09 percent of global water use for the planet’s total agricultural crop production.
3. The Corn: One pound of corn (0.5 kilograms) requires 108 gallons (409 liters) of water. Worldwide corn production soaks up about 19.4 trillion cubic feet (550 billion cubic meters) of water annually. Corn production accounts for 8 percent of global water use for the planet’s total agricultural crop production. So much for corn-produced gasoline being inexpensive. Oil consumes only 1.01 gallons (1.06 cubic meters) of water per kilowatt hour to produce. Didn’t think about that, did we?
4. The Wine: Get this. For one gallon of wine (3.8 liters) it takes 1,008 gallons (3,816 liters) of water. That’s 63.4 gallons of water for one glass (1 cup)! Most of the water used for wine production is for growing the grapes. I happen to think it’s worth it.
5. The coffee: One gallon of coffee (3.8 liters) requires 880 gallons (3,331 liters) of water. That’s 37 gallons (140 liters) of water for just one cup. If everyone in the world drank a cup of coffee each morning, it would ‘cost’ about 32 trillion gallons (120 billion cubic meters) of water a year. If you’re like me, I consume 4 cups by noon. That’s 148 gallons of water just to wake me up.
O.K. So the steak is only 8 ounces, the potato is only 8 ounces, and the corn is only 4 ounces. So…by the time we have consumed that steak dinner, with the wine and coffee, it has required somewhere close to 1,200 gallons of water just to get it to our plate. Amazing.
Having done the research on this hasn’t caused me to feel bad. It’s actually caused me to be more appreciative of the fact that I live in a country that actually has the water resources that enables me to enjoy the quality of life that I do. Imagine living in a country where water isn’t available like it is here in America. In order to produce the food we eat, it takes lots and lots of water. We’re blessing to live in this country, regardless of the politics. There are some things that we just take for granted-like water. Kinda makes we want to invest in organizations that help third-world countries drill for water…
If you have been following any of these recent blogs, you will have picked-up that we are on a mission to uncover and eliminate hidden ‘energy guzzlers:’ the appliances, equipment, and habits that, unknown to us, are wasting energy and causing us unnecessary expense. We have found that some appliances and equipment, much to our surprise, use much more energy than we would have guessed (flat screen TVs and hot tub pumps). But there are a couple of appliances that, at first blush, might seem to be energy-suckers, but in fact are not.
I asked a few people at work to identify the two appliances in their kitchens that they thought were the biggest energy-wasting culprits. To the person, each one listed both their dishwasher and their electric stove. By the way, none of these folks thought that their refrigerator was an energy-waster. I pointed them to blog number one. Like them, I really thought my dishwasher and electric stove used lots of electricity, so I try to use them sparingly. I was surprised to find that they actually use much less electricity than I thought. This was good news for me because I love to cook and hate to wash dishes.
First, the Dishwasher. I figured that we ran our dishwasher 18 times (cycles) a month. That’s a little more than every-other-day. At $0.17 per KWH, the dishwasher costs us an average of $6.62 a month. Huh. I spend more than that on breakfast. What about all that hot water? We were of the opinion that if we cut down on running the dishwasher and washed dishes by hand, we’d be saving money. Not so. I found that we use less energy washing dishes in a dishwasher than washing by hand! This is one of those counter-intuitive things. It’s like taking a bath versus taking a shower. With all that water running down the drain, it would seem that a bath would use less water than a shower, but just the opposite is true. Same with washing dishes by hand.
Even though there was a smile on my face when I found that the dishwasher wasn’t a true ‘energy-guzzler,’ I was given a couple of tips that can help reduce the energy usage even more.
First, run the dishwasher only when full. We found that this reduced our monthly usage from around 18 cycles to around 15. But here’s the tip that I thought was pretty cool. We were told to use the cool-dry cycle (on our dishwasher it’s called the ‘no heat’ button) rather than the hot cycle. Never thought about that. I guess I thought that they needed that cycle to make sure the germs were killed. The utility guy told me that, with 160 degree water, the germs were already dead and it just takes a little longer for the dishes to dry. For those of you who don’t have this feature on your dishwasher, you can turn it off after the final rinse and let the dishes air dry. I guess that this can reduce the dishwasher’s energy usage by 30-40 percent.
Next, the Electric Stove. We figured that we used the stove-top around 45 minutes to an hour a day. The average monthly cost, oddly enough, is only $7.25 a month. Not bad. Everyone I asked thought this one was the bad-boy of the kitchen, using much more energy than any other appliance. Interestingly enough, some of my friends have spent hundreds of dollars on counter-top appliances that they purchased just so they wouldn’t use their stove. One friend, who just spent $135 on a convection-type, dome-shaped oven, upon hearing how little his electric stove was really costing him, gave me the “thanks a lot” look. Should have saved his money.
In closing, here are a couple of tips we picked-up regarding how we can reduce the stove usage even more.
• Foods cook faster at lower temperatures if you use pots with flat bottoms and tight-fitting lids.
• Pans that are bigger or smaller than the heating coil waste energy. (Weird. I thought that by putting the smaller pan on a larger coil would cause it to heat-up faster)
• You can also save energy by using your microwave oven, slow-cooker, toaster oven, and electric skillet instead of the larger oven or stove.
In our first blog dealing with hidden energy guzzlers, we discovered how to save energy by cleaning the coils and checking to see that the refrigerator and freezer compartment seals were, in fact, sealing correctly…which they weren’t. I thought we were through with anything dealing with cooling or freezing. Not so fast, I was told…
My next discovery really falls into the “hidden” category because it’s one of those appliances that are described by the phrase: ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’ It’s our freezer. Not the little one over the refrigerator, but the big one in the garage. And…the one in the basement. Why have two freezers, you might ask? Good question. Especially since neither of them is full. Our thinking, upon reflection, was to have more freezer space for those periodic trips to Costco, when we found ourselves buying more stuff than our little freezer (above the refrigerator) could hold. However, we have never really filled both of these freezers. The big one in the garage is a 16 cubic feet upright and the one in the basement is a 7 cubic foot chest model.
By the way, I grew-up in a small community in northern Minnesota, where we used large freezers to store vegetables grown in the garden and for sides of beef or venison. As a kid I remember that someone was into the freezer almost every day. That’s just the way it was. Everyone had a freezer. But my life is different now. I don’t have a large garden where I grow my own vegetables. I don’t hunt large animals where I need to store hundreds of pounds of game. My only hunting is done at Costco and it just feels like we’re supposed to have one.
We have found that the foods we use most often go into the freezing unit of the refrigerator. When we run out of room there, we put the overflow into the 7 cubic foot freezer in the basement, which on any given day, is around ¾ full. The big one in the garage? Well… it’s ½ full of stuff that we rarely eat, but don’t feel right about throwing away. We might just need it someday. The reality is that we have thrown a lot of food away due to freezer burn.
Here’s what I discovered regarding the economics of having this extra freezer space in my life. At $0.17 per KWH, the large freezer is costing me around $24.00 a month. The small one is costing me around $12.00 a month. That’s $36.00 a month for freezing mostly air. We were told that the fuller a freezer is, the more efficient it is. We were also told to make sure the coils in the back of the freezer were clean. Another thing was to check for ice. Check for ice?? It’s a freezer! Of course there’s going to be ice! What he meant was this: If we had ¼ inch of ice in our freezer (which we did on the big one), it’s acting as an insulator and is causing the freezer to work harder and use more electricity. Talk about adding freezer insult to injury.
It was recommended that we get rid of one of the freezers. If we wanted to keep the big one, then make sure the empty space is filled with sturdy plastic jugs filled not quite to the top with water. If we decided to keep the small one, it would cost us less electricity, but we felt it might limit us in terms of space.
It’s amazing the clarity that can come with a bottle of wine and a pizza. We decided to get rid of the large freezer. Here’s why:
• It would cut our ‘extra’ freezer costs from $36 down to $12 a month
• It would free-up needed space in the garage.
• It would cause us to use more discretion when shopping at Costco, and buy only what we have room for.
• It would eliminate the waste of freezer-burnt food.
• The utility company offered to haul the big freezer away for free if we couldn’t sell it on Craig’s list.
Another $24 a month saved, plus garage space gained as well as some needed changes in our shopping habits. Who knew that our utilities energy efficiency ‘coach’ would turn-out to be a financial advisor as well.