It’s the time of year to get ready for Easter, and when most people think of Easter, they think of one thing: the eggs (or the bunny, but he brings eggs, so I stand by my original thought). Many of us have fond memories of dyeing, hunting for, and decorating our homes and offices with the colorful eggs, but since The Longest Straw is all about ruining your fun*, today we’re going to look at the virtual water impact of Easter Eggs.
*Actually, I love fun. It’s just that we want your fun to be done in a responsible way, so that we can all continue to have fun on this planet in the future.
The largest-selling brand of Easter Egg dye is Paas. If you’re dyeing eggs, you generally have two common methods: the first is the hard-boil the eggs and eat them after the holiday is over, the second is to use a needle to “empty” the egg - the insides of which can then be scrambled, fried, baked, or cooked in any other fashion you prefer your eggs. Either way, I’m going to ignore the virtual water impact of the egg itself, since you’re eating the eggs and only using the shell for decorating purposes. That said, if you’re not a big egg-eater, the second method does allow you to save the shells from year to year, potentially saving yourself from egg purchases in the future.
Paas dye is made of sodium bicarbonate, maltodextrin, artificial colors, magnesium stearate, zinc stearate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and silicon dioxide. I don’t know if any of those words mean anything to you, but a bit of Googling tells me that the first ingredient, sodium bicarbonate, is better known by the household name “baking soda” and can occur naturally, making it relatively low-impact in terms of virtual water.
The next ingredient, maltodextrin, is made by taking starchy foods, usually corn, and adding water. I couldn’t find a source on how much water is used in this process of “hydrolysis,” but if we assume there are equal parts corn and water (which seems to at least be true on the molecular level) then a cup of maltodextrin requires roughly 40 gallons of water to produce.
I’m going to skip looking at some of these final ingredients to look at one item necessary to dying eggs that’s not on the ingredient list: lemon juice or vinegar. When you buy Paas dye, you must dissolve it in 3 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice, depending on the vibrancy you desire. Vinegar’s virtual water footprint is roughly equivalent to wine. Those measly 3 tablespoons of vinegar require 10.5 gallons of water to produce. As for a lemon, each lemon needs roughly 116 liters of water and contains 2-4 tablespoons of juice. So you’re looking at 30 gallons of water for the lemon juice, assuming it’s 100% juice and doesn’t contain preservatives or artificial flavors.
Does that all sound like too much virtual water to you? Check out this DIY recipe for Easter Egg dye, which you can make with fruits and vegetables you already have at home. You can even use rinds, peels, and other fruit and vegetable parts you don’t eat to eliminate your additional virtual water impact after a meal or snack. Sure, the dye needs vinegar, but less than the Paas dyes do – so you’ll see savings all around!