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Values for virtual water content, that is, all water used in the production of whatever product you are analyzing, are usually available for a meal, a piece of clothing, a fruit, but not very easily accessible for electronics.

I understand the amount expended in the production of a cell phone will depend on the model, but I can't seem to find even a gross (but reliable) estimate.

Would anyone know where I can find such values or how one can estimate them?

  • 2
    AFAIK electronic industry is the greatest toxinator for oceans, so good question – Danubian Sailor Jan 31 '13 at 5:44
  • @lechlukasz Exactly! I understand it's much more than making a hamburger, but this info is hard to come by. – MeloMCR Jan 31 '13 at 13:19
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This is almost impossible and similar difficult to answer as the question about ecological footprints and the question about impact of travelling.

Before we find out how much virtual water comes along with a cellphone we need to find out how to calculate the virtual water footprint.

You already mentioned the Water Footprint Network. Scientific head behind this project seems to be Prof.dr.ir. Arjen Y. Hoekstra at the University of Twente. In his book The water footprint assessment manual: Setting the global standard (PDF, pages 48-51), he writes:

In order to calculate the water footprint of the final product in a production system, one can best start calculating the water footprints of the most original resources (where the supply chain starts) and then calculate, step-by-step, the water footprints of the intermediate products, until one can calculate the water footprint of the final product.

It's four pages worth a read if you want to find out more about water footprints of consumer products. Hoekstra explains two different approaches of how to calculate the footprints.

But the essence is: You need data. For you cellphone you need to find out:

  • all details on processes of the production
  • all data of contained parts of the cellphone
  • all energy and ressources used

... and maybe much more. To be honest, I doubt you will be able to research this on your own and cellphone producers wont give out such data to consumers unless they really have some kind of transparency drive.

To find out the exact amount of virtual water used in your cellphone you will have to start your own dedicated research project which will only work in coorperation with the manufacturer.

I hope this helps.

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    +1 Good answer! I agree, it's too complicated and there is not enough data available. – THelper Jan 31 '13 at 13:01
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    This was my general feeling, but since I am not an expert in this matter, I was hoping there would be some info out there I didn't know about. – MeloMCR Jan 31 '13 at 13:32
  • It is indeed very complicated. Example: The Fairphone manufacturers are very open about their supply chains. In their blogs you can see how many steps just one material (the tin in the solder) takes from one manufacturer to the other, across the globe. – Jan Doggen May 6 '16 at 15:25

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