The real amount of drinking water available per capita is a topic of great interest for human health and the economic and political management of resources. The global market of bottled drinking water, for instance, has shown exponential growth in the last twenty years, mainly due to reductions in production costs and investment in promotion. This paper aims to evaluate how much freshwater is actually consumed when water is drunk in Italy, which can be considered a mature bottled-water market. A Water Footprint (WF) calculation was used to compare the alternatives: bottled and tap water. Six Italian brands of water sold in PET bottles were inventoried, analysed and compared with the public tap water of the city of Siena, as representative of the Italian context. Results showed that more than 3 L of water were needed to provide consumers with 1.50 L of drinking water. In particular, a volume of 1.50 L of PET-bottled water required an extra virtual volume of 1.93 L of water while an extra 2.13 L was necessary to supply the same volume of tap water. These values had very different composition and origin. The WF of tap water was mainly due to losses of water during pipeline distribution and usage, while WF of bottled water was greatly influenced by the production of plastic materials. When the contribution of cooling water was added to the calculation, the WF of bottled water rose from 3.43 to 6.92 L. Different strategies to reduce total water footprint are discussed.
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