Water with your meal?

By Jennie Saxe

This time of year, you might find me sampling the last of our Valentine’s Day chocolates, or cooking up a hearty stew – enough to ensure there will be leftovers for my busy family. In past blogs, we’ve written about the water footprint of our food, and ways that sustainable food management protects water resources. This got me thinking: how much water goes into producing some of my family’s favorite foods?

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

After doing a little research, I found that there’s a lot of water hidden in my go-to chicken stew recipe: the chicken alone – about 2 lbs. of it – requires around 1,100 gallons of water to produce. That’s enough water to fill about 25 bathtubs! If my famous beef stew were on the menu, the same amount of beef requires almost quadruple the amount of water – 91 bathtubs’ worth. And believe it or not, those Valentine’s Day chocolates have the largest water footprint on the menu: it takes a whopping 454 gallons of water to produce a standard-sized (100g) chocolate bar. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, that’s more water than an average American family of four uses in one day.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the water footprint of your favorite meals. Buying only what you need for your recipes reduces potential food waste, and minimizes the waste of everything that went into producing the food, including water!

You can also look for foods that are locally-grown. Lower transportation needs for local food translate into a smaller environmental footprint overall. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and urban gardens are great ways to support your community and get healthy, local foods. EPA is a partner in the Local Foods, Local Places program which helps communities like Allentown, Pennsylvania, Crisfield, Maryland, and Williamson, West Virginia stimulate economic development through local food enterprises.

With simple steps, you can be a water-savvy home chef – and still make mouths water at the dinner table.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Sustainable food management: a win for water

by Luke Wolfgang

The recent announcement of a national food waste reduction goal to cut food waste in half by 2030 has great promise for not only getting more of the bounty of our food supply to those in need, but also reducing methane generated in landfills. But did you know that reducing food waste – in 2013, estimated at 35 million tons in the US – also helps reduce water consumption and promote healthy waters?

EPA helps universities, grocery stores, sports stadiums, hospitals, and prisons divert food waste from landfills through the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). The FRC focuses on a food recovery hierarchy, ranging from less preferred options, like landfilling, to more sustainable approaches like feeding the hungry.  Here are a few examples of how different parts of the food recovery hierarchy also protect water resources.Sustainable food

Here in the mid-Atlantic, participants in the FRC generated 67,000 tons of compost in 2014.  According to USDA, every 1% of organic material added to the soil increases soil water holding capacity by 27,000 gallons of water per acre.  The benefits of adding compost to local growing fields and landscaping not only saves water resources needed to grow food, but also reduces the amount of runoff of sediment and nutrients from entering local waters.  Compost can even play a role in bioremediation by helping to degrade and bind contaminants in the soil.  In this way, the compost not just saves water, but it can also improve the health of waters in the mid-Atlantic.

Food donation is another important part of the food recovery hierarchy. In 2014, mid-Atlantic FRC participants donated over 9,600 tons of food to feed those in need!  It took a lot of water to grow that food – when food is wasted, all of that water is wasted, too. In fact, if that 9,600 tons of food had been wasted instead of donated, and assuming it was all one food (let’s say, lettuce), it would be equivalent to wasting enough water to fill the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium to the upper deck!

In one last look at the food recovery hierarchy,  FRC participants in the mid-Atlantic reported that they had reduced 9 tons of food at the initial source through better purchasing, storing, and handling practices. Even simple changes like these can have a big impact.

You, too, can help reduce food waste and preserve water resources at the same time. Take some time to learn about sustainable food management, start composting, or help organize food donation in your community.

About the author: Luke joined EPA in 2003, and is currently the regional contact for EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and WasteWise programs in the Land and Chemicals Division.  In his free time, Luke is an avid fly fisherman who enjoys tying his own flies to fool elusive species like Carp and Muskellunge.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Charge for Our Current Generation

By Virginia Till

One thing folks don’t always know about us is that many of our programs are voluntary and proactive, and assist communities. While I do much of my work in the office, I relish opportunities to get out into the public and “put a face” to government.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Westerly Creek Elementary School in Denver, CO.

I was looking forward to interacting with kids about the 3 R’s: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” When I found out the students were ages 3-4, I was a bit intimidated since “Recycle Rita” had never done her Recycle Relay for a group this young. However, I decided I was up for the challenge and forged ahead.

Surprise, surprise, the kids already knew a lot about my topic. If you can believe it (and I’m sure the parents out there will), some kids even knew the word “landfill!” I was very impressed. After a bit of introduction, including a relay demo, we got started. The kids had a great time running back and forth and figuring out what was landfill, recycle, reuse, or compost. Some choices had more than one answer, which got their wheels turning, but they all enjoyed it.

This experience got me thinking about how current generations often pin their hopes on future generations. I hear talk about younger folks knowing more about the environment, and caring more about it, than we did in the past. We also talk about protecting the environment for future generations. I would propose that while it’s true many children might have an ever-increasing awareness of global issues and access to information, it’s current generations that are in still in a position to get things right.

There are many opportunities to adjust our current policies and processes to include more “systems thinking” and learn lessons from nature by focusing on long-term adaptability. Customizing our activities to community needs and addressing barriers to behavior change is also a great strategy. What are the most relevant health or environmental issues you experience in your community? How can you reduce the barriers to changing behavior?

While kids today might be more aware of the environment, we have many excellent opportunities to make our communities more resilient, now and into the future. If you get a chance to slow down this spring and take in the sights, I recommend it. And next time you chat with a 4-year old, ask her or him if they know what a landfill is or about the 3 R’s. You’re bound to be impressed!

Find resources for teaching and learning about the environment.

About the author: Virginia Till is an Environmental Protection Specialist for EPA’s Denver Office Environmental Stewardship Unit. Virginia works to reduce wasted food and educates others about waste diversion (source reduction, recycling, composting). Her alter ego, “Recycle Rita” often helps out in describing strategies for reducing waste in the first place.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.