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Circular Economy at IWA Copenhagen: experiences and reflections

IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition: a mouthful, but what a crazy experience! Full of enthusiasm, and curious as to what the upcoming week would bring, on early Saturday morning, 10 September, I got on a train in Utrecht with Copenhagen as my ultimate destination. A truly inspiring week in which I participated in my first, big international congress covering topics on the entire water cycle.

The adventures of travelling by train to Copenhagen

The train trip was an adventure in itself. Along with my colleague Siddarth Seshan, we boarded the train in Utrecht at quarter to 7 in the morning. The day before we had already realised that, by taking this first train, we were going to miss the connection with the train replacement bus service. When we arrived at Hengelo, it turned out that the busses were not running at all. But we managed to find our way to Osnabrück, where we caught the IC to Hamburg. We left Hamburg with a 2-hour delay and headed to Copenhagen. We finally arrived in the Danish capital at 9 o’clock in the evening. Quite the train ride, but fortunately we left early in the morning so we could absorb any mishaps!

The value of (waste) water

On Monday, the first official day of IWA, the KWR & Friends theme of the day addressed ‘Circular Economy’. A morning side event entitled: ‘Circular Economy: Taking stock of the value of (waste)water’ took place, convening utilities, researchers and practitioners working on subjects like:

  • Water in the circular economy
  • Energy in the circular economy (heat storage and hydrogen)
  • Water reuse in the EU project ULTIMATE and water reuse for a robust regional freshwater supply
  • Reuse of materials with examples from Aarhus ReWater and AquaMinerals

Klaasjan Raat  (KWR) also hosted a workshop on the topic looking at building integrative, regional strategies for responsible water reuse’. Presentations were given by:

  • Shafick Adams, Water Research Commission, South Africa
  • Ruud Bartholomeus, KWR Water Research Institute and Wageningen University, the Netherlands
  • Heather Smith, Cranfield University, UK
  • Han Vervaeren, De Watergroep, Belgium

The workshop was inspiring, especially since the presentations outlined a clear interdisciplinary perspective on water reuse, encompassing substantive technical as well as socio-scientific knowledge. The importance, for instance, of an integrated solution for water reuse was highlighted: a solution for one stakeholder should not create a challenge for another. During the round-table session to which I participated, there was also a discussion about how we should perceive the water system. Can we for example consider the anthropogenic water system separately from the natural water system? Or, can we separate the slow water system from the fast water system? Separating the water system could help us to clarify challenges and generate sharper solutions.

Intergenerational dialogue towards a circular economy

Later in the day, we continued with the theme of circular economy, hosting an intergenerational dialogue on the topic at the KWR & Friends booth. Together with Klaasjan, we facilitated interesting discussions among young professionals and more experienced professionals, particularly regarding the question of the value of water. Can the water system for instance be organised as a ‘sharing economy’? Or how can we ensure that we only use the water that is available, instead of abstracting more water than can be replenished? The KWR & Friends booth was not the only context in which young professionals and experienced professionals discussed with each other.

IWA itself was also attentive to the value of engaging young professionals, by means of workshops, lectures and a very inspiring keynote given by Inês Breda, member of the IWA Emerging Water Leaders Steering Committee Inês clearly outlined the career path and milestones from young researchers. She also faced challenges within the water sector and emphasized the strength of collaboration between generations.

The interdisciplinarity and intergenerationality of the water sector

The IWA congress was big and intense, but most of all it was inspiring. The significance of both interdisciplinary and intergenerational collaboration became very clear to me. Viewing subjects from different angles, and from the perspectives of different disciplines and generations is crucial. It was unbelievably cool to see how varied the KWR group was. I know for sure that this was a fantastic first experience, because it gives me the appetite for more international learning! Or, as Wim Audenaert put it during the congress: ‘Walk before you run, but start walking’.

If you would like to find out more about our experiences in international collaboration and knowledge exchange, have a look at the blogs from my colleagues: Lisa Andrews  and Nienke Meekel   on diversity and inclusion, as well as water quality and health. Siddharth Seshan will contribute a blog in the coming weeks about digital water. Stay tuned!

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