Climate change, rapid population growth and unsustainable practices are putting our water resources at risk. Whether it is the fuel that makes our cars run or the packaging that keeps our food fresh, the products we use every day require a large amount of water to produce. In a water stressed world, the water footprint of products will be a key environmental indicator in the drive towards an increased sustainable development. For the first time, Borealis and the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) have investigated the water footprint of plastics materials.
Besides the water we use for drinking, cooking or washing, we also need water to produce goods we daily use: from the farm to your cup the coffee you drank this morning required an average of 140 litres of water to make. Your cotton shirt may have taken another 2,700 litres while a single sheet of A4 paper would “weight” 10 litres.
On average, agriculture accounts for 70% of fresh water use, industry 20% and our domestic use 10%. Most research has therefore focused on our food and drink footprint, but little is known about industrial products or materials like plastics that are used in many applications and value chains.
Yet, like any industrial process, the production of petrochemicals and plastics requires water for cooling, processing and cleaning. To account for the water “embedded” in our goods, leading academics Professor A. Allan, Laureate of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize, and Professor A. Hoekstra from Tweente University, developed the water footprint, which measures the amount of water used from raw material production to the manufacturing of the finished product.
In 2008, Borealis piloted the concept to estimate the footprint of a domestic plumbing system with its key customer Uponor. This pilot pointed to the need for more robust methodologies and better assessment of water use for plastics manufacturing, notably for supplies and energy.