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What’s The Water Footprint Of That Sandwich?

A cafe in London is doing its part to make its customers more aware of their true water usage by allowing scientists to label each menu item with its "water footprint" value.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

From now until Sunday, customers entering Leila’s Shop, a London cafe, will find a number alongside each menu item. This number represents the item’s “virtual water footprint,” or the estimated amount of water involved in production as well as transport of the food and/or its ingredients. The owner of the shop, Leila McAlister, is allowing a team of scientists from King’s College London to calculate and then display the water footprint value. The actual numbers are shocking: Because of the amount of water consumption involved in the growing, harvesting, and shipping of vanilla pods — just one ingredient — one dessert had a water footprint of 994 liters.

What’s the Big Idea?

The concept of the carbon footprint is well-known at this point, but given estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will live with “severe water stress” by 2025, Tony Allen (who originated the water footprint concept) and his King’s College colleagues believe more attention needs to be paid to the impact of water usage on an individual level. What to do about these numbers remains unclear, according to one researcher: “The issue is extremely complex…There really is no consumer guidance, but as our understanding develops it will come.”

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