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Water consumption: data, causes of waste and their prevention

To understand more about water consumption, let’s start by analyzing data, causes and their prevention.

The data relating to the distribution and consumption of water in Italy are disclosed every year by ISTAT on March 22 on the occasion of World Water Day. This anniversary was established by the UN, which recognized as inalienable “the human right to clean and safe drinking water, and to sanitation, essential for the full enjoyment of life and human rights”.

Having access to water consumption is almost taken for granted in our country and in much of Europe. However, even though since 2000 more than 1.8 billion people have been able to access drinking water and obtain basic water services, almost a third of the world population (about 2 billion people) still does not enjoy this right (data source: Blue Book 2022, Utilitatis Foundation).

Guaranteeing everyone the possibility of accessing water consumption is a goal that must be accompanied by actions that encourage an informed use of this precious resource, especially in the countries that are richest in it. The optimal management of blue gold and the spread of a conscious lifestyle become even more important and necessary in the course of climate change.

This latter is modifying the distribution of rains, with very significant consequences related to the distribution of water resources all over the world, and in particular for some areas of the planet, including the Mediterranean.

Therefore, water consumption is both a right and a commitment to sustainability and climate justice.

Water consumption in Italy: the data

To find out more about water consumption in Italy, let’s analyze some data.

According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the main items of water consumption worldwide are:

  • agriculture (70%);
  • industry (20%);
  • civil consumption (10%).

These percentages vary in different countries. In Italy, water consumption is proportionate as follows (ISTAT data):

  • agricultural use 54%;
  • industrial use 21%;
  • civil use 20%;
  • energy use 5%.

The Italian water distribution network is developing over 57,000 kilometers. In 2020, according to the ISTAT 2022 Water Report, the operators put into the distribution network a total of 2.4 billion cubic meters of water (370 liters per inhabitant per day) and supplied 1.5 billion cubic meters to end users.

This corresponds to 236 liters per inhabitant per day, billed or supplied free of charge.

The consumption of water in Italy is among the highest in Europe. In fact, the average of European countries is around 125 liters (Eureau data).

Water consumption is highest in the North (average 256 liters per day per inhabitant), with significant differences between the North-West (282 liters) and the North-East (220). The quantity is significantly reduced as you descend along the peninsula:

  • Center: 231 liters;
  • South: 221 liters;
  • Islands: 194 liters.

The average monthly expenditure of households for the domestic supply of water is 14.68 euros.

Small paradox: the average monthly expenditure for mineral water – one of the “vices” of Italians, big consumers of bottled water – is slightly lower (12.56 euros).

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The causes of waste

The causes of waste are various.

Not all the water supplied into the distribution network really reaches its final destination. The initial availability does not correspond to the actual water consumption. In fact, in 2020, almost one billion cubic meters of water was lost before reaching the final users: this is 36.2% of the resource pumped into the network.

The good news is that the dispersion is slightly decreased compared to 2018 (37.3%), as well as the daily loss per kilometer of network (41 cubic meters in 2020, 44 in 2018). However, unfortunately, more than one out of three provinces recorded total losses of more than 45%.

Nationally, the causes of water leaks and wastes are mainly:

  • strong obsolescence of the water infrastructure;
  • water quality problems for human consumption;
  • increasingly reduction of the supply sources (e.g. rivers), which can make water insufficient in some areas.

A part (not always quantifiable) of water waste occurs at civil and domestic level. In this case, the causes are mainly two:

  • poor culture of sustainability, which favors unconscious, excessive and indiscriminate water consumption;
  • leaks of various kinds (e.g. rupture of pipes, leaks from the roof or ceiling, drips from corroded or worn pipes, leaks from washing machines or dishwashers.

The prevention of waste and the rationalization of water consumption require different interventions depending on the area in which this waste is recorded.

How to prevent waste

To prevent water waste along the distribution network it is necessary to repair, modernize and monitor the infrastructures involved.

This kind of intervention naturally requires a lot of funds: the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) has earmarked investments for 4.4 billion euros (3.5 of which for service companies water), with the aim of ensuring safety, supply and sustainable management of water resources throughout the entire cycle.

At the civil level, the prevention of waste passes through the promotion of behaviors and technologies that favor a conscious and responsible consumption of water, both in a domestic context and in an industrial, productive or commercial context.

From a practical point of view, this means:

  • do not ignore leaks and drips, and repair them as soon as possible (a leak in toilet can waste more than 43,000 liters per month);
  • inform and educate roommates/condominiums/collaborators to behave in favor of water saving;
  • constantly monitor water consumption and related costs.

Building automation is a valuable aid for monitoring water consumption and detecting any anomalies that could result in waste and damage to environments. For example E-WATERBLOCK is an intelligent device developed by ELTEK.

E-WATERBLOCK allows you to detect anomalies in water consumption, and to block the water flow before any leaks and damage occur. Monitoring is simplified by a special APP.

Very versatile, E-WATERBLOCK is suitable for installation in work spaces, public places, and for use in the home.


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