Cities must lead transition to circular economy, says IWA report

IWA figures reveal that around 80 percent of all wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers, lakes and oceans

Recovering water, energy, nutrients and other precious materials embedded in wastewater is an opportunity for cities to transition to the circular economy and contribute to improved water security. The call comes from a new report on reuse opportunities by the International Water Association and OFID (the OPEC Fund for International Development).

Kala Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, IWA

Titled, The Reuse Opportunity: Cities seizing the reuse opportunity in circular economy, the report says that as cities are drivers of the global economy, they must lead the large-scale action needed to increase wastewater treatment, reuse and recycling.

“The global market for wastewater recycling and reuse reached nearly US$12.2 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach US$22.3 billion by 2021,” said Professor Kala Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, IWA. “This market expansion is in response to a growing demand from cities and industry for water against a backdrop of increased urbanisation, population growth and climate variability, the result of which is greater water scarcity at a time of increasing global demand. Wastewater management as a resource is a critical solution to these challenges.”

IWA figures reveal that around 80 percent of all wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers, lakes and oceans, creating health and environmental hazards, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, including nitrous oxide and methane. The emissions are three times larger than those produced by conventional wastewater treatment activities.

The report focuses on eight cities, all facing different water and wastewater challenges and which are developing different solutions to address them with the potential to be applied in other cities.

“This report illustrates both the global wastewater challenge, and the reuse opportunity in eight cities,” said Suleiman J Al-Herbish, Director General, OFID. “These are all cities in low- or middle-income countries where future challenges will be more acute and the need for change is urgent. The report presents city roadmaps and identifies priorities–as well as the benefits–of meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target of halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse by 2030.”

The eight cities are:

Aqaba, Jordan: A mid-size city turning its ‘zero discharge’ challenge into an opportunity;

Bangkok, Thailand: Using wastewater as a resource and a valuable economic good;

Beijing, China: Building infrastructure to keep up with an ever-expanding mega city;

Chennai, India: Addressing water scarcity through accelerated wastewater reuse;

Durban, South Africa: Treating wastewater as an economic good;

Kampala, Uganda: Protecting its water source with an integrated plan to control, treat and reuse wastewater;

Lima, Peru: Learning by doing under the urgency of shrinking glaciers;

Manila, Philippines: A mega city regenerating resources through wastewater treatment and reuse.