New opportunities for the circular economy of water

KWR publication clarifies terminology and definitions of the circular economy of water

A consistent terminology and a clear description of strategies are needed if new circular opportunities are to be successfully exploited in the water sector. Hitherto, these have been lacking. The need has now been met by a recent publication by KWR experts Stefania Munaretto and Caro Mooren, and scientist Piero Morseletto of the VU Amsterdam.

Water attracts a great deal of attention in the circular economy. And rightly so. Water is a critical element for life and the world economy cannot do without it. But despite a growing body of research on the circular economy of water (CEW), a consistent terminology and a clear conceptualisation of strategies for water in the circular economy are lacking. The recent publication, Circular Economy of Water: Definition, Strategies and Challenges, has changed this. ‘An understanding of the circular economy of water and its implications is crucially important for the water sector,’ says Stefania Munaretto, one of the article’s authors. ‘It enables the exploitation of new opportunities in sustainable water management.’

WiCE and NextGen

The article draws on case studies from Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE), a joint research programme of KWR and the water utilities, and from European NextGen projects, which are aimed at demonstrating innovative technological, business and governance solutions for water in the circular economy.

Nine strategies

Building on examples from the cases studies and an analysis of the scientific literature, the authors outline a set of nine strategies to bring about a CEW: Rethink, Avoid, Reduce, Replace, Reuse, Recycle, Cascade, Store and Recover. They also direct their attention to challenges in the areas of legislation, governance and implementation associated with this transition.

Circular economy of water definition

The article highlights the unique position of water. As a resource, a product or a service, water has no equivalent in the economic system. ‘For this reason, we need to refresh strategies for the circular economy, to have them reflect these properties of water,’ says Piero Morseletto from the VU Amsterdam, the article’s principal author. ‘Moreover, there was no robust definition of the circular economy for water. This research offered a great opportunity to share thinking about this with highly knowledgeable colleagues from KWR and the water sector.’

From all of the insights they collected, the researchers distilled the following definition of the CEW as an:

‘economic framework for reducing, preserving and optimising the use of water through waste avoidance, efficient utilisation and quality retention, while ensuring environmental protection and conservation.’

Quite a mouthful, which indicates how complex and wide-ranging this material is. ‘A shared understanding of the circular economy of water and the associated strategies reduces misunderstanding,’ says co-author Caro Mooren. ‘And it facilitates collaboration between policy-makers, professionals and scientists working on circular solutions. It brings us a step closer to a sustainable society.’