Traded water pollution rising faster than total footprint

Globalization is the driving force behind a thriving “virtual trade” in grey water – fresh water needed to dilute pollution to local standards – according to researchers in China.

Grey water embodied in global imports and exports has risen faster than the world’s overall grey water footprint, the team found. From 1995 to 2009, the EU and US effectively outsourced water pollution by importing goods requiring lots of grey water. Meanwhile, China in particular suffered from water scarcity by generating pollution in the production of goods for export.

The researchers believe that more attention should be paid to virtual trades in grey water. “It’s important to focus on the water scarcity caused not only by the decrease of quantity, but also by the degradation of quality,” said Can Wang of Tsinghua University in Beijing. “International transfers of embodied pollution through bilateral trade, driven by globalization, could aggravate the uneven distribution of water resources on the planet.” […]

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