Water Carbon Footprint: Bottled Vs. Tap, Water Use Impact on Carbon Emissions

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | November 13, 2023

Man looks at the water carbon footprint coming from a plastic bottle of water and wonders about the carbon footprint of bottled water vs. tap water, household water use emissions, carbon impact of water and if there is an intake and water usage calculator.

Your water carbon footprint encompasses the environmental impact of all the water you consume.

Water flows freely in much of the developed world, available to almost anyone with a simple turn of the tap. But, have you ever wondered about the carbon footprint of bottled water vs tap water?

Both processes involve mechanical operations to produce fresh drinking water, but which has the higher water emissions impact?

You can enjoy a warm shower, toss a load of laundry into the washing machine, drink a cool glass of water, and wash the dinner dishes, all without a second thought. Yet with all of that easy access to H2O, you might not see the effects your water use can have on the environment.

All of the water decisions you make add up to create a water carbon footprint, and the size of this footprint impacts everything from greenhouse gas emissions, air and water quality, and environmental pollution, to climate change.

Water Carbon Footprint: What Is a Water Footprint?

Just as a carbon footprint measures the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses generated by your actions, a water footprint is a measure of the amount of water that you use.

Product life cycle diagram of water showing how processes using water and other sources of greenhouse emissions contribute to water pollution which eventually affects the environment and people..

The measurement goes much deeper than a 16 ounce bottle of water or a hot shower, however.

What Makes Up A Water Footprint?

A water footprint is made up of three basic components.9 They include:

  • Blue water: This represents the amount of groundwater or surface water you use, and comes from underground springs, lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
  • Green water: This is the water sourced from rainwater, and includes any liquid that is either consumed/used or evaporated.
  • Gray water: Any water used to clean or treat industrial wastewater or sewage is considered greywater

When you combine blue, green and gray water, you get a total water footprint.

Water Footprint Calculator

Use this water footprint calculator to determine your total water footprint.10 This simple tool requires you to enter basic information about yourself, like the country you live in, the type of food you eat and how much you earn in order to estimate your water footprint.

You can even use a more advanced version of the water footprint calculator to get a more precise measurement using information about your home appliances and fixtures, your property features and your habits.

Average Water Footprint in the U.S.

Curious how your water footprint compares to others? The average American has a water footprint of 2,000 gallons a year.11

How is that possible? Well keep in mind that this number reflects not only the amount of water you directly consume, but also your impacts.

If you eat an 8 ounce steak for dinner, you add about 80 gallons to your daily footprint.11

Even a simple tomato adds 2.5 gallons.11 That’s the amount required to produce these foods.

The Water Greenhouse Gas Connection

In addition to a water footprint, water is associated with its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Water Delivery

It’s easy to take for granted how water flows into your home at the turn of a tap. Straight into a glass for drinking, into a pot for cooking, into your washing machine, dishwasher, bathtub and more.

But this clean tap water doesn’t arrive at your home without leaving a trail of greenhouse gasses. Instead it travels from water treatment plants through networks of pipes and pump stations, most powered by electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Water Treatment

The water that flushes down your toilet or flows down your drains isn’t done contributing to greenhouse gas emissions just because you’ve finished with it.

In fact, wastewater relies heavily on electrical-powered pump stations and energy-hogging treatment equipment to remove solids and contaminants, treat it with necessary chemicals, and release it back into the wild. A staggering 13 percent of all electricity – and the associated emissions – generated in the U.S. goes to delivering and treating water.12

Water Usage

There’s also a huge greenhouse gas implication in the ways you use water in your daily life. Not just in terms of how much you directly consume by drinking or bathing, but the water associated with your habits and behaviors.

Known as virtual, embodied or embedded water, this is the water required to produce the car you drive, the materials used to build your home, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, and so much more. You might not see it, but the products and services you are using rely on it, and that means you’re using it indirectly when you choose these products or services.

Water Consumption

While water footprints, carbon emissions and the concept of embedded water are important, they can sometimes be more challenging to change than the more tangible everyday water usage, like what flows out of your tap, or how many cups you drink in a day. Interestingly, water usage can vary from person to person, but is more often impacted by where you live.

Average Water Usage: Household in the U.S.

The average household in the U.S. uses 82 gallons of water per person per day,13 with a typical American family using around 300 gallons per day on average.14 About 70 percent of that is used indoors for things like cooking and cleaning,14 and 30% outdoors for lawn and garden care.

Roughly 12 percent of all water usage in the U.S. homes is wasted on leaks,14 and a whopping 24 percent gets flushed straight down the toilet.14

Average Water Usage: Household Outside of U.S.

The U.S. has one of the highest average water usage rates on the planet. While Americans use an average of 82 gallons per day,13 the average person in France uses just 77 gallons.15

In India, that rate drops to around 38 gallons per person per day,15 and plummets to just 3 gallons per person per day in the African country Mali.15

Water Calculator

Curious whether you use more or less water than your neighbors? The easiest way to find out is to check your monthly water bill.

Depending on where you live, your water usage may be measured in gallons or in centrums, where 1 centrum equals a hundred cubic feet of water, or about 748 gallons.16 You can also find a simple online calculator here,17 or a more detailed one here.18

How Much Water Does a Shower Use?

Showering accounts for around 17 percent of all indoor water usage in the average household.19

Shower: Average Water Usage

One of the most intriguing things about a shower is that the amount of water you use is ultimately up to you, as long as you know the flow rate of your showerhead, which is measured in gallons per minute.

With a standard older shower head that has a 5 GPM rating,20 a 5 minute shower would use 25 gallons of water.

Eye-level shot of a bathroom showing a bathtub with shower, toilet, and sink.

(Image: midascode47)

If you have a newer more efficient showerhead with a 2 GPM rating,20 a 5 minute shower would use just 10 gallons of water.

Even if replacing an old shower head with a more efficient model isn’t possible for you at the moment, you can always cut the amount of water you use for showering by just taking shorter showers.

Does a Shower or Bath Use More Water?

If water conservation is your goal, bypass the bathtub and stick with showers.

Assuming a low-flow showerhead with a flow rate of 2.5 GPM, you’ll use 25 gallons of water with a 10 minute shower, vs 35-50 gallons if you fill the tub.21

Shower Savings: How Can I Use Less Water?

One of the easiest ways to reduce your water usage in the shower is to turn the water off as you soap your hair or body.

Another option is to place a bucket on the floor of the shower, then use that captured water for your garden.

Finally, consider replacing your showerhead with a low-flow model. Units carrying the EPA’s WaterSense rating will save about 2,700 gallons of water and $70 in water and energy costs per year.19

How Much Water Does a Toilet Use?

Believe it or not, the porcelain throne uses more water than your shower, washing machine or dishwasher.22

Toilet Water Usage

The amount of water used in a toilet is measured in gallons per flush, or GPF. This represents how many gallons of water you flush away with your waste products.

On an older toilet, this number is about 6 GPF, while newer models boast numbers as low as 1.28 GPF.22 The federal standard for toilets is 1.6 GPF, which means that new toilets sold in the U.S. must be at least this efficient.

Toilet Savings: How Can I Use Less Water?

If you have an older toilet, as many as 180 gallons of water could be leaking down your drain each week.22 That’s because one important component, a rubber disc known as a flapper, can corrode over time, letting water slip by.

Fortunately, a flapper replacement is a cheap and easy fix to save water and help you cut costs. If you have an older toilet, upgrading to one with the EPA’s WaterSense rating could save you 13,000 gallons of water and $140 per year.22

Do Low-Flow Toilets Actually…Flush?

Some buyers are reluctant to purchase low-flow or dual-flush toilets because early versions of these products didn’t exactly live up to expectations. The first models introduced in the late 20th century required multiple flushes, and often left waste behind in the bowl.

The good news is that the EPA and other agencies have worked hard to develop standards for these toilets that ensure they use the least amount of water possible while actually taking care of business.22

Newer low-flush toilets not only flush liquid and solid waste out of sight, but also do it with a single flush, while leaving the surface of the bowl clean and free of debris or stains.

How Much Water Does a Washing Machine Use?

Washing machines keep clothes looking and smelling fresh, but they also tend to hog water, falling behind only showering, cooking and toilets in terms of household water usage.

Washing Machine Water Use Per Cycle

A typical U.S. family washes 300 loads of laundry per year, and each of those loads uses an average of 41 gallons of water.23 Top-loading machines tend to use more water per wash, typically around 5 gallons per load more than a front-loading machine.24

How To Save Water When Washing Clothes

No, you don’t have to wash your clothes by hand with a washboard to cut costs. Instead, take simple steps like only washing full loads, and always making sure to set water levels and other settings based on the size and content of the load.

You can also consider switching to a more efficient washing machine. Models with an EnergyStar label from the EPA use about 25 less energy and 40 percent less water than standard models.23

What About the Dryer?

A clothes dryer might not use any water, but it does account for about 6 percent of your total home energy use.23 You can cut your consumption by line-drying clothes.

If that isn’t an option for you, use your dryer as efficiently as possible by keeping the lint trap clean and clear and listening to moisture sensors – you have them – to avoid over-drying clothes.

How Much Water Is Used on Lawn Care?

The green grass lawn may be the norm in the suburbs, but it also requires plenty of water to keep it looking healthy. In fact, 30 percent of water used in the average home is used outdoors maintaining the lawn.25

Water Usage: Lawn Care

The average family uses about 100 gallons of water per day just to water the lawn.25 This adds up to around 9 billion gallons of water per day nationwide in the U.S.25

Even worse, about half of this water ends up wasted due to overwatering or inefficient irrigation techniques.

Water-Saving Lawn Care Tips

You don’t have to give up a lux green lawn to minimize your water footprint. Instead, focus on smarter watering techniques, such as avoiding watering the lawn in the middle of the day, when a significant amount of water can be lost to evaporation.

Instead of saturating the lawn once a week, try adding about a half inch of water two times a week.26 If you’re not sure how much water you’re using, place an empty bowl on the lawn and measure how much water you’re collecting each time you pull out the hose.

Don’t water the lawn if it doesn’t need it – grass that springs back up when you step on it doesn’t need a drink. Finally, consider investing in an irrigation system with the EPA WaterSense label, which will save you around 9,000 gallons per year.25

Consider Lawn Alternatives

What if you never had to water – or mow – your lawn again? It’s possible for those willing to consider alternatives to endless stretches of green grass.

For instance, native plants that replace turf will require much less water and maintenance than a lawn. Other options inside rocks or gravel, clovers or creeping thyme ground covering.

All of these eliminate the emissions and effort of mowing and will significantly reduce outdoor watering needs.

How Much Water Does It Take To Do the Dishes?

At three meals a day and a seemingly endless amount of snacks and drinks in between, staying on top of the dishes can seem like an impossible task. The good news however, is that it’s possible to keep the sink clear of dishes without wasting endless water.

Water Usage: Washing Dishes by Hand

If you don’t have a dishwasher, or you simply prefer to wash dishes by hand, you’ll use about 20 gallons of water if you leave the water running as you wash.27 You can cut this number in half if you put a stopper on the drain and fill the sink instead, using the collected water to wash and rinse.

If you have two basins, consider filling one with soapy water and another with clean water to rinse.

Water Usage: Washing Dishes in the Dishwasher

Old-school dishwashers used a whopping 16 gallons of water per load,20 and many did a sub-par job of getting dishes clean and sparkling.

Fortunately, modern dishwashers are much more efficient, using only about 6 gallons per each load of dishes.20 That means that for most families with modern energy efficient dishwashers, you’ll use less water running the dishwasher than if you tried to do the dishes by hand.

Do I Need To Scrape the Plates?

Back in the day, dishwashers only worked well if you scraped the plates and rinsed them before putting them in the machine. Now, dishwashers are equipped with soil sensors, more powerful jets and specially designed racks that get dishes clean even if they aren’t pre-rinsed.

You’ll still need to scrape away any food, but you can save about 10 gallons of water if you skip rinsing and stick dishes straight into the racks for washing.27

How Much Water To Drink in a Day

You’ve learned about the water footprint of society and how water is used in the home, but what about the water used by your body?

Though it might seem a small amount compared to water used for washing clothes or showering, drinking water has a huge impact on your health and wellness.

Water Intake Calculator

Adults in the U.S. drink about 44 ounces of plain water each day, while kids drink about 23 ounces.28 Health experts recommend that men get about 15.5 cups of water per day and women about 11.5 cups.29

So why the discrepancy between how much to drink and the amount of plain water people are actually drinking? It’s because it’s not just plain water that counts.

In fact, any liquid counts toward your daily goal, even caffeinated beverages and liquid in the food you eat. While it would be nice to use a water intake calculator to see how much you are getting, the best way to tell for sure is to listen to your body.

Drink when you are thirsty and watch your urine – dark yellow urine is a sign you need to drink up.

Tips For Drinking More Water

The good news is that you can stay well-hydrated without drinking plain tap water all day. Caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee count toward your total, as does water in food, especially water-dense options like many fruits and veggies.

If you’re struggling to drink more, try adding chopped fruit or indulging in some flavored or sparkling water.

Why Is Drinking Water So Important?

An estimated 60 percent of the human body is made of water,30 with 73 percent of the heart and brain, 83 percent of the lungs and even 31 percent of bones made of pure H2O. Drinking water not only provides the building blocks for many critical organs, but also helps keep your body temperature in check, allows you to efficiently metabolize food, eliminate waste and stay feeling your best.

How Does Drinking Water Impact Carbon Footprint?

Drinking water may seem like a small part of your water usage in terms of ounces consumed, but it actually contributes a surprising amount of greenhouse gasses to the environment.

 Water Carbon Footprint: Tap

You might think that your drinking water habits have zero impact on the Earth; think again. Even if you exclusively drink tap water, that water had to be treated and delivered to your home through a network of pipes.

All the water that flows out of the faucets in your home, which averages 19 percent of all water used in a typical household,14 comes at a carbon cost. In fact, about 5 percent of U.S. carbon emissions come from moving, treating and distributing water.31

The Double-Impact of Wasted Water

With water so readily available in the average home, it’s oh-so-easy to turn on the tap and let it flow, often letting more than you need go down the drain.

The Gulf of Mexico showing its blueish-green calm waters where waterwastes from surrounding area end up.

Even more water, about 12 percent of all water used in a typical home in fact,14 is wasted via leaky pipes or plumbing fixtures.

That means that not only was electricity spent – and greenhouse gasses emitted – to treat and distribute the water to your home, but even more was spent – along with further emissions – to transport that “unused water” back to the wastewater treatment plants, treat it, release it back into nature and continue the distribution cycle.

Pipeline Manufacturing

You may have already noted earlier in this article that 13 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. is used to deliver and treat water and wastewater.12

What’s easily overlooked, however, is that the pipe networks used to transport this water and waste have a carbon footprint of their own.

While the majority of water pipelines in the U.S. today are made of iron or steel, many cities are now allowing plastic alternatives. These plastic pipes generate 35-35 percent fewer emissions during manufacturing than iron or steel, and about 25 percent fewer emissions than copper.32

Despite that potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, research into whether toxic pollutants can penetrate plastic water pipes, or whether the pipes themselves leach chemicals into the water, is still ongoing.

How Does Bottled Water Impact Carbon Footprint?

Water is a crucial building block of life, so it can be tempting to grab a cool refreshing bottle of water from that cooler at the convenience store, or from the office drink machine.

Before you twist that cap, consider whether the carbon footprint of bottled water is worth the convenience.

How Many Bottles of Water Are Sold?

Bottled water sales have exploded since the start of the 21st century, with over 1 billion bottles of water sold around the world every single minute.33

This number is expected to double by the year 2030.

How Does a Bottle of Water Impact the Earth?

The plastic industry generates 860 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally each year.34 That’s the same amount of carbon produced by 189 coal-burning power plants.34

Fossil fuels are involved at every stage of the process from their role as a raw-material in plastic manufacturing, to their use as a fuel for powering the manufacturing plants, to their use in the trucks and other vehicles used to distribute these bottles around the globe and to your local store.

While the prospect of recycling can make some buyers feel better about buying bottled water, burning the plastic down during recycling of these bottles generates an additional 15 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually.34

Carbon Footprint of Bottled Water vs Tap Water

Tap water has a smaller carbon footprint and also requires less energy consumption than bottled water. Producing bottled water for regional sales results in 6 to 15 times the carbon footprint of tap water, while water manufactured for international sales has 22 to 32 times the carbon footprint of tap water.35

Top shot of a black-and-white checkered kitchen sink being filled with tap water.

(Image: Skitterphoto48)

When it comes to energy consumption, regional bottled water requires 11 to 18 times more energy than tap water, while international water sales use 17 to 32 times the energy as tap water production and distribution.35

Water Bottle Environmental Impact

Plastic water bottles contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but that’s not their environmental impact.

Water Bottle Pollution

With 1 billion plastic water bottles being sold every minute, that’s hundreds of billions of plastic water bottles being disposed of every day. Roughly 85 percent of them end up as waste, and are not recycled.33

Like many other single-use products, they end up in waterways, or as litter on the side of the road. Plastic bottles and other litter detract from the natural landscape and contribute to general pollution on both land and water in many areas.

Why Are Water Bottles Bad?

As plastic water bottles break down, they release micro particles of plastic that contaminate air, soil and water. These particles end up in the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe.

They’ve even been found in the human placenta,36 suggesting that they are being passed from mother to baby in the womb. Scientists estimate that 171 trillion of these particles can be found in the ocean,37 and this number grows as water bottle sales increase.

The most alarming part perhaps, is that no one knows the full health effects of these plastic particles.38

Closeup of a bin showing a large number of water PET bottles.

(Image: VIVIANE627649)

Remember that plastics in general are not even a century old, and their use as a beverage container are even more recent. It may be many years before anyone understands if and how plastic impacts human health.

How Long Does a Plastic Water Bottle Last?

Recycling bins may seem like they’re on every corner, but only a small fraction of plastic water bottles end up recycled. Those that aren’t recycled take around 1,000 years to break down,33 so once that plastic bottle is sold, humankind is likely stuck with it for at least a millennia.

Bottled Water Benefits

While bottled water has some obvious environmental drawbacks, it also has its advantages. Public health organizations like the CDC recommend keeping bottled water on hand for drinking and hygiene in case of an emergency.

Plan for at least one gallon per person per day.39 Try to have a three day supply on hand, and aim for a two-week supply if possible.

You’ll need more if you have pets, or if you live in a warmer part of the country.

In addition to its appeal during an emergency, bottled water offers a convenience factor that’s hard to match with anything that comes from a tap.

When you’re on the go, there’s almost always a ready supply of cold bottled water for purchase at any store you enter. Bottled water is also an ideal option for parties and events, especially those being held outdoors or where tap water may not be practical.

Carbon Footprint Bottled Water: How To Reduce Water Bottle Environmental Impact

If you’ve decided that the drawbacks of bottled water outweigh the good, that doesn’t doom you to constantly searching for a water fountain.

There are numerous alternatives to help reduce your impact while ensuring your thirst stays quenched.

Bottled Water Sustainability

Bottled water companies have worked to improve bottled water sustainability over the years. The weight of the container used for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water has dropped by 51% since the year 2000.40

The bottles used for water weigh about one-third as much of those used for soda,40 which is a result of thicker walls being needed to keep those carbonated drinks contained. That reduced weight means less waste to dispose of, but also means the bottles are easier to transport, and produce fewer emissions at every stage of distribution.

Aluminum Cans vs Plastic Bottles

In a quest toward greater sustainability, some water manufacturers have swapped plastic bottles for aluminum containers. On one hand, this benefits the environment because aluminum cans have a 68 percent recycling rate, compared to a measly 3 percent for plastic bottles.41

On the flip side, aluminum cans generate about twice the greenhouse gasses of plastic bottles during manufacturing,41 so it’s a trade off of sustainability and pollution vs carbon footprint when choosing between these materials.

What About Water in Cardboard Boxes?

You’re probably seen water for sale in cardboard boxes or cartons, or even packaging known as Tetrapaks. While so-called boxed-water is marketed as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bottles, there are some questions as to whether or not it’s actually a better bet for the environment.

Plastic bottles are more readily accepted for curbside recycling than these cartons, and recycling rates tend to be higher for plastic than cartons such as these. At the same time, some boxed water makers tout a 50 percent lower rate of greenhouse gas emissions than those used to make a new plastic water.42

Given the relatively small market share of these cartons compared to plastic water bottles, the jury is still out as to whether they will ultimately be the eco-friendly answer consumers are searching for.

Reusable Water Bottles

To reduce the carbon footprint bottled water leaves behind, consider investing in a reusable water bottle for on-the-go hydration without the environmental concerns of plastic bottles.

While the average American buys about 150 bottles of water each year,43 reusable bottles can be filled anywhere you can find a sink or water fountain, and can keep you hydrated without the waste. That’s 150 fewer plastic bottles you’ll need to recycle or dispose of each year, and you can be sure you’re doing your part to protect the environment.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

To understand what a water carbon footprint is and how it affects the planet, it’s helpful to first understand and answer the question, what is a carbon footprint?

Carbon Footprint Definition

Simply put, a carbon footprint is a numerical value representing the total quantity of greenhouse gases generated by your actions. It is typically measured in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

While greenhouse gases include things other than carbon dioxide, like methane and nitrous oxide, the carbon footprint calculation often determines the carbon equivalent of these gases to ensure their impact gets included in the carbon footprint total without making the result overly confusing.

What Makes Up a Carbon Footprint?

Some elements that make up your carbon footprint are fairly obvious – things like emissions generated by your car, or by an airplane when you take a trip. Yet these things make up just a fraction of your carbon footprint.

A larger portion of greenhouse gas emissions are hidden from your view and are embedded within the products and services you consume.1

These are the greenhouse gases used to make the clothes you wear, grow the food you eat, manufacture your phone, your television, and all of your favorite material goods. They are generated through every stage of production and manufacturing, from mining aluminum to craft a soda can, to rolling and flattening and forming and filling it with your favorite drink.

Greenhouse gases continue to be generated as that can is shipped to the local grocery store, and kept icy cold thanks to electrical refrigeration systems.

Then when you’re ready to dispose of it, your carbon footprint is still growing as that empty can gets hauled to the landfill or a recycling facility and processed or discarded. For some items, like plastic taken to a landfill, the breakdown process takes centuries, which means your actions can continue to generate carbon long after your lifetime.

Carbon Footprint Calculator

If you’re curious about your impact, the easiest way to estimate your carbon footprint is by using an online carbon footprint calculator.2

You’ll need to enter information like the number of people in your household, where you live, and your annual income, as well as things like how you travel, what you eat, and the kinds of things you buy.

This can give you an idea of how your daily routine contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and help you decide if you may want to change certain behaviors or activities to reduce your impact.

Why Does My Carbon Footprint Matter?

Outdoor enthusiasts often encourage others to respect nature by urging them to “Leave only footprints.” While this is good advice for hiking in a national park, it’s not as relevant when it comes to discussing greenhouse gasses. In fact, a carbon footprint is one footprint you don’t want to leave behind.

Of course, it’s practically impossible to have zero impact on the Earth, but you can and should take steps to make your carbon footprint as small as you can.

Greenhouse Gasses Trap Heat

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses form an invisible barrier within the Earth’s atmosphere, trapping heat from dissipating and ultimately raising the temperature all over the planet. This is known as global warming.

Much of this is caused by man, with carbon dioxide levels rising around 40 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.3

Greenhouse Gasses and Global Temperature

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses have contributed to a 1.98 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) increase in global temperatures since 1901.3 That higher temperature has melted ancient glaciers and reduced the amount of sea ice remaining in the Arctic at the end of each summer by 40 percent just in the past 40 years.3

Greenhouse Gasses and Climate Change

Carbon and other greenhouse gasses affect more than just the temperature, experts claim.

Global warming also results in climate change, which can include hotter temperatures in some areas, cooler temperatures in others and an overall shift in weather patterns worldwide, according to many studies.

A view of the Pacific Ocean during sunrise taken by the shore.

This means an increased risk of rising sea levels, stronger storms, droughts, floods and wildfires.

These events are expected to lead to major shifts in where people live, and to contribute to things like drought, famine and a greater level of income inequality.

Reducing Society’s Carbon Footprint

Because every action and behavior contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and increases carbon footprint, there are countless opportunities to do the opposite – make changes that will reduce carbon footprint.

Some of the biggest impacts can be found at the societal level, with changes made to policies related to transportation, energy, industry and agriculture.

Carbon Footprint of Transportation

From cars to trains, trucks and planes, transportation represents the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions within the United States.4 This means that policies aimed at making transportation more energy efficient or less reliant on fossil fuels can have a huge impact on the country’s carbon footprint.

This may include increasing public transit options, implementing more stringent fuel economy standards on vehicles, incentivizing work from home or funding research into alternative fuels like ethanol blends or hydrogen fuel cells.

Carbon Footprint of Energy

About 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gasses are generated by the production of electricity,4 most of which comes from power plants that burn coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels. To reduce emissions from these plants, the country could explore renewable energy options like solar, hydroelectric power or wind.

Another option is to fund research into energy efficient appliances and lighting technology, and to incentivize the use of more efficient heating and cooling or electrical systems.

Carbon Footprint of Industry

Industry is the third largest source of greenhouse gasses in the U.S.5 To reduce the impact of industry, the country could turn to renewable energy to power factories and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Other options include advanced screening and filtering on smokestacks and greater reliance on energy efficient machinery and equipment.

Carbon Footprint of Agriculture

About 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are attributed to agriculture.5 The carbon footprint of agriculture includes methane gas resulting from the digestion process of cows and other livestock, as well as nitrous oxide production from fertilizers and other soil management applications.

Advanced soil management practices, more efficient irrigation methods, and policies that reduce dependence on meat in favor of plant-based meals can help reduce the impact in this arena.

Reducing Your Individual Carbon Footprint

Unless you own a large farm or you’re a titan of industry, it might seem as though you are powerless to reduce society’s carbon footprint. While you can vote and lobby your representatives to reduce emissions and protect the environment, you may be surprised to learn that you can also help the Earth by focusing on the size of your individual carbon footprint.

In the U.S., each individual generates an estimated 14.6 tons of carbon per year,6 which is more than double that of the average person outside of the United States. Taking small steps in your everyday life can make a huge difference.

Focus on Energy Efficiency

One simple thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to focus on making your home as energy efficient as possible. This means turning off lights when you’re not using them, swapping incandescent bulbs or LEDs, insulating and sealing your home to reduce heating and cooling demand, and swapping old energy hogs for more efficient appliances.

You can even take advantage of federal tax credits and other incentives designed to encourage adaptation of solar or other renewable energy in the home.7

Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation

If you want a smaller carbon footprint, minimize the amount of times you get behind the wheel of a car. Consider alternate forms of transportation, from walking to public transit or biking, all of which are much more friendly for the planet than driving.

Don’t forget to consider how much you fly – one long-haul flight adds about two tons to your carbon footprint.6

Consider Your Diet

About 30 to 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten, so one simple way to reduce your carbon footprint is to only buy what you are actually going to use – no more ignoring those veggies in the fridge until they are spoiled and have to be thrown away.8

Another option is to plant your own garden, or at least buy items produced locally rather than those shipped across the globe. Visit farmers markets for locally grown produce, meats and cheeses.

Finally, swap meat for plant-based alternatives. Even doing this for one of two meals a week can reduce your impact on the Earth, as beef production is water-intensive and high in greenhouse gas emissions.

Reduce Water Carbon Footprint By Planting Trees

One significant method to reduce water carbon footprint is through tree cultivation.

Trees are crucial for conserving water because they decrease water overflow, ward off water contamination, and uphold the wellness of our water sources.

Cypress Springs Florida Natural Spring showing clear blue and green water pumped from the ground naturally.

When you support tree-planting projects, like the Long Shower Carbon Offset program, you not only advocate for cleaner water but also help reduce the environmental impact linked to our water consumption.

While you can find plenty of colors, sizes and designs for reusable water bottles, this option may seem less appealing if you don’t have a clean and reliable source of water for refills.

If water quality is a concern, consider investing in a reusable bottle with a built-in filter. This enables you to have clean and healthy water on-the-go, while also reducing your water carbon footprint for a more eco-friendly choice.

Frequently Asked Questions About Water Carbon Footprint

Is a Reusable Water Bottle Really Worth It?

Yes, even if you spend $50 on a good reusable water bottle, you’ll save around $1,350 per year compared to buying bottled water.44 Over the average 12-year life of a metal water bottle, that’s around $16,000 in savings.

What Is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is one of the most important global tools for fighting climate change. Reached in 2015, this agreement signed by more than 190 countries is a commitment to work toward reducing global temperature rise.

Is Tap Water Safe?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that drinking water in the U.S. is among the safest in the world.45 If you have private well water, your water quality is not being regulated by federal regulations, and you should regularly test your water for safety.46

Read More About Water Carbon Footprint


1University of Michigan. (2022). Carbon Footprint Factsheet. Center for Sustainable Systems. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://css.umich.edu/publications/factsheets/sustainability-indicators/carbon-footprint-factsheet>

2The Nature Conservancy. (2023). What is a carbon footprint? The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/>

3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2021, August 13). Climate change impacts. NOAA | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/climate-change-impacts>

4C2ES. (2020, March 26). What We Can Do. C2ES. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.c2es.org/content/what-we-can-do/>

5US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, October 5). Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. EPA | Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions>

6United Nations. (2023). Actions for a healthy planet. United Nations. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.un.org/en/actnow/ten-actions>

7Solar Energy Technologies Office. (2023, March). Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/homeowners-guide-federal-tax-credit-solar-photovoltaics>

8US Department of Agriculture. (2023). Food Waste FAQs. USDA. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs>

9GRACE Communications Foundation. (2022, September 9). What Is a Water Footprint? Water Footprint Calculator. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/what-is-a-water-footprint/>

10Water Footprint Network. (2023). Personal water footprint calculator. Water Footprint Network. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.waterfootprint.org/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/>

11WGBH Educational Foundation. (2020). What is Your Water Footprint? PBS. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/molecule-that-made-us/home/water-footprint/>

12Dycian, Y. (2022, February 1). The Carbon Footprint of Water. WINT Water Intelligence. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://wint.ai/blog/the-carbon-footprint-of-water/>

13US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, July 20). Understanding Your Water Bill. EPA. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/understanding-your-water-bill>

14US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, April 24). How We Use Water. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water>

15U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2023, March 1). Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH). CDC. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/infographics/food-water/water_use.htm>

16City of Detroit. (2019, July 31). Explanation of Charges On Your Water Bill: (Residential Customers). City of Detroit. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://detroitmi.gov/sites/detroitmi.localhost/files/2019-07/Explanation%20of%20Charges%20-%20Residential%20Customers%20-%20FY2019-20%20Final.pdf>

17US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, February 14). WaterSense Calculator. EPA. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/watersense-calculator>

18Southwest Florida Water Management District. (2018). WaterSense Calculator. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/water-use-calculator>

19US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, June 7). Shower Better. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/shower-better>

20U.S. Department of the Interior. (2023). How Much Water Do You Use at Home? USGS. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-percapita.php>

21GRACE Communications Foundation. (2022, July 6). Shower & Bath. Water Footprint Calculator. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.watercalculator.org/posts/shower-bath/>

22US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, September 22). Residential Toilets. EPA. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/residential-toilets>

23US Department of the Interior. (2021, August 11). Laundry Practices and Water Conservation. National Park Service. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.nps.gov/articles/laundry.htm>

24McCabe, L. (2016, October 25). Should You Get a Front-Load or Top-Load Washing Machine? Wirecutter. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/should-you-get-a-front-or-top-load-washing-machine/>

25US Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, February 14). Outdoor Water Use in the United States. EPA | Watersense. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/www3/watersense/pubs/outdoor.html>

26US Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, May 16). Watering Tips. EPA. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/watersense/watering-tips>

27US Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, February 14). US Indoor Water Use. EPA | Watersense. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/www3/watersense/pubs/indoor.html>

28U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2022, June 7). Get the Facts: Data and Research on Water Consumption. CDC. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/plain-water-the-healthier-choice.html>

29LeWine, H. E. (2023, May 22). How much water should you drink? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink>

30Water Science School. (2019, May 22). The Water in You: Water and the Human Body. USGS. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body>

31Huron River Watershed Council, Baja, K., Wright, S., Geisler, N., Christiansen, B., & Chang, I. (2014, June). The Carbon Footprint of Domestic Water Use in the Huron River Watershed. Huron River Watershed Council. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.hrwc.org/wp-content/uploads/Carbon-Footprint-brochure_single-pages.pdf>

32Capel Media Limited. (2022, October 3). Report shows plastic pipes have lower carbon footprint than other pipe materials. Water Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.watermagazine.co.uk/2022/10/03/report-shows-plastic-pipes-have-lower-carbon-footprint-than-other-pipe-materials/>

33Ramirez, R. (2023, March 16). The plastic water bottle industry is booming. Here’s why that’s a huge problem. CNN. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/16/world/plastic-water-bottles-un-report-climate/index.html>

34Bouhlel, Z., Köpke, J., Mina, M., & Smakhtin, V. (2023, March 16). Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends. United Nations University | Institute for Water, Environment and Health. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://inweh.unu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/UNU_BottledWater_Report_F.pdf>

35Dettore, C. G. (2009, December 14). Comparative Life-Cycle Assessment of Bottled vs. Tap Water Systems. University of Michigan | Center for Sustainable Systems. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://css.umich.edu/sites/default/files/css_doc/CSS09-11.pdf>

36Ragusa, A., Svelato, A., Santacroce, C., Catalano, P., Notarstefano, V., Carnevali, O., Papa, F., Rongioletti, M. C. A., Baiocco, F., Draghi, S., D’Amore, E., Rinaldo, D., Matta, M., & Giorgini, E. (2021, January). Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta. NIH | PubMed. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33395930/>

37Paddison, L. (2023, March 8). More than 170 trillion plastic particles found in the ocean as pollution reaches ‘unprecedented’ levels. CNN. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/08/world/ocean-plastic-pollution-climate-intl>

38Lau, W. (2022, April 8). Our Ocean Is Choking on Plastic—But It’s a Problem We Can Solve. Pew. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/trend/archive/winter-2022/our-ocean-is-choking-on-plastic-but-its-a-problem-we-can-solve>

39U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2023, April 19). Creating and Storing an Emergency Water Supply. CDC. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/creating-storing-emergency-water-supply.html>

40International Bottled Water Association. (2023). The Environment. IBWA | International Bottled Water Association. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://bottledwater.org/learn-more-about-bottled-water/>

41Onstad, E. (2019, October 16). Plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans: who’ll win the global water fight? Reuters. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastic-aluminium-insight/plastic-bottles-vs-aluminum-cans-wholl-win-the-global-water-fight-idUSKBN1WW0J5>

42Peters, A. (2019, November 13). Boxed water isn’t the environmental solution they want you to think it is. Fast Company. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.fastcompany.com/90421638/boxed-water-isnt-the-environmental-solution-they-want-you-to-think-it-is>

43City of Issaquah. (2023). Waste Reduction. City of Issaquah. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.issaquahwa.gov/1347/Waste-Reduction>

44Boston University. (2023, February 27). Busting myths about water bottles. Boston University Sustainability. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.bu.edu/sustainability/2023/02/22/water-bottle-myths/>

45Woolf, A. (2023, February 22). Is Your Drinking Water Safe? HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Is-Your-Drinking-Water-Safe.aspx>

46Woolf, A. (2023, February 20). Well Water Safety & Testing: AAP Policy Explained. HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved October 10, 2023, from <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Where-We-Stand-Testing-of-Well-Water.aspx>

47Photo by midascode. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/bathroom-luxury-luxury-bathroom-1336167/>

48Photo by Skitterphoto. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/sink-kitchen-checkered-water-tap-1335476/>

49Photo by VIVIANE6276. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/plastic-detritus-bulky-recycling-4597957/>