The water needed to have Italians eat pasta and pizza

Maite Martinez-Aldaya, Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional

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Problems of freshwater scarcity and pollution are related to water use by farmers, industries and households. The term ‘water users’ has always been interpreted as ‘those who apply water for some purpose’. As a result, governments responsible for water resources management have traditionally targeted their policies towards those water users. Recently, however, it has been shown that this approach is limited. Final consumers, retailers, traders and all sorts of businesses active along the supply chains of final consumer goods remain out of the scope of water policies. This is strange, given the fact that all water use in the world is ultimately linked to final consumption by consumers. It is therefore interesting to know the specific water requirements of various consumer goods, particularly for goods that are water-intensive, like food items, beverages, bio-energy and materials from natural fibres. This is relevant information for consumers, but also for retailers, traders and other businesses that play a central role in supplying those goods to the consumers. The aim of this report is to estimate the water use related to two products that are typical to Italian consumers: pasta and pizza margherita. We use the water footprint concept as a tool to quantify and localise this water use. The water footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced. It refers to the sum of the water use in the various steps of the production chain. Earlier studies showed that, when expressed per capita, Italy has one of the largest water footprints of the world, together with other South European countries and the US. The water footprint of the average Italian is 2330 m3/yr, while the global average amounts to 1240 m3/yr. This study shows that the water footprint of dry pasta made in Italy amounts to 1924 litres of water per kilogram of pasta. The water footprint of one pizza margherita – assuming a total pizza weight of 725 gram – is 1216 litres of water. The impact of the water footprints of pasta and pizza depends on the vulnerability of the water systems where the water footprints are located. The impact of the water footprint of pasta is most severe in Puglia and Sicily, where groundwater overexploitation for durum wheat irrigation is common. The impact of the water footprint of pizza is more diverse. It is concentrated in the first step of the supply-chain of tomato puree and mozzarella, i.e. in the cultivation of tomatoes and the feed crops of dairy cows. The bread wheat used for the pizza base does not have large impacts. The water footprint impact of the tomato puree on the pizza is concentrated in Puglia (groundwater overexploitation and pollution related to tomato cultivation) and Emilia-Romagna (water pollution). The water footprint impact of mozzarella lies mostly in the effects of water use for producing the feed ingredients for the dairy cows. Mozzarella production further poses a potential threat to water quality, mostly in the Po valley, but this problem seems to be properly regulated, although possibly not fully controlled.

Publication series

NameValue of water research report 36
PublisherUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands in collaboration with University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands, and Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands


  • METIS-257209
  • IR-62884

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