All The Water It Takes To Produce A Burger

The water footprint of an object can be hard to wrap your head around. This video gives you a good sense of exactly how much water—everything from growing the cow’s food to making the bun—goes into your last burger.

Hamburgers, like many enjoyable things in life, have a resource-intensive production process. In addition to meat, burger production requires water—lots of it. The USGS estimates that it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a juicy hamburger, depending on conditions that cows are raised in. The water doesn’t go directly into your burger; rather, it is used to feed, hydrate, and service cows. Check out a visualization of the water that goes into a burger in the video above.

The video is just a small piece of a European Commission campaign to raise awareness about resource efficiency, according to PSFK. The Generation Awake campaign features a site dedicated to teaching Europeans about water efficiency—and shocking us into action with statistics about the water footprints of various products (did you know that hosing your lawn for nine hours uses the same amount of water as it takes to make a pair of jeans?).

The site suggests some fairly obvious steps for reducing your water footprint: buy more secondhand goods, waste less food, and eat less meat. But if you’re up for a real challenge, Generation Awake will soon launch a video challenge asking participants to visually demonstrate the amount of water needed to make chocolate, coffee, hamburgers, beer, and shoes, much like in the clip seen here.

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  • AndrewMGunther

    Ariel please share the numbers for pasture based production, I wonder if then you might make clear the number you quote is for conventional!

    Flawed statements like this are unhelpful to say the least. Complex issues do not lend themselves to headline grabbing "silver bullet" quotes. I am appalled the difference is not made clear and you appear to disrespect the many great pastoral farmers in the United states by not looking beyond a headline.


  • Hein Oomen

    I agree with Steven Stanley. 

    Instead, maybe we can calculate the additional energy that is needed to bring that same amount of water back to its original, fresh and clean state. 

    What amount are we talking about actually - the video says 2,393 liter which is nowhere near what is mentioned in the text: 4,000 - 18,000 gallons (in the text). Or is this the difference between European and American hamburgers?

  • stephadelic

    Yes, because once water is "used," it disapears from the face of the earth, never again to be evaporated and refill our water supply. All you meat eaters ought to be ashamed. Everyone knows vegetables, fruits, and and grains don't need water to be grown, cleaned, processed, and cooked. DUH

  • elias

    I agree with the previos comment. Water transforms during the digestion process and returns to the ground. Btw, cattle's life time water consumption will not only produce beef, but leather, fat, entrails, and bones, which are used to produce other sub products.

  • Stephen Stanley

    This is actually misleading:  The water is not "used" in the sense of it disappearing from the natural world into the product.  Most of the water is consumed by and excreted by the animal.  In fact, very little of the water we "use" in any of our household or industrial processes ends up disappearing, it merely becomes contaminated or is diverted from one watershed to another.  Water use is a poor metric of the impact of producing beef.  Contaminants released into the environment would be a better one but it's harder to measure.  So how about meaningful metrics like x gallons of urine per burger, or y pounds of manure, or z pounds of carbon dioxide.  Measured simply by water use, human life is the most wasteful process on the planet - it uses hundreds of gallons a day and in the end produces no useful product.

    I'm not arguing with the spirit of your article.  We'd all be better off by using less beef.  But the scare tactic of gallons of water used per burger is just not valid, transparently manipulative and easily dismissed as just plain wrong.