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News Nearly 5000 litres of water a day consumed per capita in EU

A new study has shown that agricultural products make the largest contribution to the water footprint of the EU and recommends reducing food waste, changes in diet and increased agricultural efficiencies. On average, each EU citizen consumes 4,815 litres of water per day, when the water used to produce all goods and services, including those imported into the EU, is accounted for.

Water-use efficiency is becoming increasingly important in light of rising demand on water supplies. This issue has prompted the 2012 Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water1 which outlines policy actions aiming to meet this challenge in Europe. The ‘water footprint’ is a measure of water use which accounts for both direct and indirect use by a region, business or individual and has been developed to aid decision makers by quantifying water use in terms of direct uses (e.g. drinking water) and indirect uses, which originate from the production process of industrial or agricultural goods.

This study reviews methods to assess the water footprint budget across all 27 EU Member States as well as Croatia (EU28), which is set to join the EU in July 2013. It considered two measures of water footprint; the production water footprint and the consumption water footprint. The production water footprint is the direct and indirect use of water for production of goods or services within the countries considered. The consumption water footprint is the total consumption, which also accounts for ‘virtual flow’ i.e. the import and export of goods or services that require water use as part of their production.

The results demonstrate that the consumption water footprint of the average EU28 citizen is 4,815 litres per day, 40% of which is the result of imports from other countries, mainly cocoa, coffee and cotton. Comparing imports and exports showed that the EU28 is a net importer of ‘virtual’ water, using 2,364 litres per capita per day (lcd) in the form of imports, but exporting only 645 lcd. The production water footprint in the EU28 is on average 3,420 lcd.

Agricultural products contribute the majority of water use across both measures of water footprint; 89% of the consumption water footprint and 91% of the production water footprint. In total, animal products represent more than half the total value and the consumption of milk, beef and pork is associated with particularly high water footprint values.

The focus of water-use policy and awareness campaigns has often been on reducing direct use. However, these results demonstrate that reduction of food waste, changes in diet (particularly reduction of animal products) and increased efficiencies in agriculture could be particularly effective methods of reducing the water footprint.

In reviewing the water footprint as a policy tool, the researchers suggest that further standardisation is needed and the omission of other environmental impacts of consumption and production, such as land use or greenhouse gas emissions, is a drawback. Despite this, they conclude that it is a powerful communication tool that can be used to link water resources to consumption.


Source: Vanham, D. & Bidoglio, G. (2013). A review on the indicator water footprint for the EU28. Ecological Indicators. 26: 61-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.10.021.


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Source of information Vanham, D. & Bidoglio, G. (2013). A review on the indicator water footprint for the EU28. Ecological Indicators. 26: 61-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.10.021.
Keyword(s) water footprint, Sustainable consumption, water production, BluePrint
Geographical coverage n/a
News date 15/02/2013
Working language(s) ENGLISH