THE 2,000 + LITRE CHEESEBURGER
By conservative estimates, the products that make up this cheeseburger account for more than 2,000 litres of water,* which is like filling a bathtub seven times or more than 330 toilet flushes. Even though agriculture accounts for just five per cent of Canada’s total water withdrawal (compared to thermal power generation, at 67 per cent, the manufacturing sector, at 11 per cent, and households, at nine per cent) a full 83 per cent of the water it uses is not returned to the watershed.
CONDIMENTS VIRTUAL WATER: L
The virtual water content of one teaspoon (around 5 ml) of mustard seed is about 6.5 litres. Mayonnaise, meanwhile, is mostly oil and eggs: one litre of canola oil requires more than 3,000 litres of water to produce, while a single egg takes about 140 litres.
BACON (60 g) L VIRTUAL WATER:
A safe estimate of the virtual water content of pork is about 3,280 litres/kg. Canada has exported an average of 5.3 million hogs to the United States each year since 2013, which works out to more than 1.7 Bm3 VW.
CHEESE (30 g) L VIRTUAL WATER:
It takes about 5,000 litres of water to make a kilo of cheese (factoring in the water behind the four to eight litres of milk required). In 2017, Canada exported more than 8,800 tonnes of milk and 10,000 tonnes of cheese, representing 50 million m3 VW, but this does not take into account the 150,000 tonnes of other dairy products exported that year.
BUN (50 g) L VIRTUAL WATER:
Canada exports an average of 17.7 million tonnes of wheat (grain and flour) each year, representing a massive 23.6 Bm3 VW. Grains and oilseeds such as Canola are the country’s largest agricultural exports. Crops and livestock raised on irrigated land (such as southern Alberta, which is Canada’s most irrigated region) have the largest water footprints.
VEGGIES (35 g) L VIRTUAL WATER:
Vegetables and fruits typically have much lower virtual water content than meat and dairy. Canada imports roughly 1.9 million tonnes of vegetables and 2.7 million tonnes of fresh fruit each year, mainly from the United States, Mexico and South America. We export less than half as many tonnes of veggies and one tenth as much fruit.
BEEF (150 g) , L VIRTUAL WATER:
The water footprint of beef is the highest of the commonly consumed meats ( 10,770 litres/kg, or six to seven times more water than a kilogram of chicken requires). In 2017, cattle exports to the United States were about half of what they were in 2014, but still accounted for 3.4 Bm3 VW.