Is This The Future Of Wastewater Treatment?

Sep 26, 2019 | Insights

A great message on “The Circular Economy” from the Keynote Speaker Dr Art Umble whose presentation, “A Future for the Wastewater Treatment Industry: Circular Economy and the Resource Recovery Factory” was delivered to the Water NZ Annual Conference in Hamilton on Thursday, 19th September.

Wastewater treatment challenges we face.

In his presentation Dr Umble stated the 3 main challenges for us in the 21st century are urban migration, resource scarcity and pollution impacts. We were challenged to rethink “waste streams” in wastewater treatment plants and rebrand them as “value streams”. We were led through the methods and benefits of recovering resources from these value streams and shown how these processes will connect to the circular economy.

My own reflections on this presentation are that if we are going to be able to ensure there is enough food, water and prosperity beyond the year 2050 we need to move with purpose from a linear economy to a circular economy.

Calling time on the Take, Make and Waste model?

Traditional economies are essentially linear and based on the principles; take natural resources, manufacture products and dispose of those products with little regard for the resources consumed during manufacture or what happens to the products at the “end of life” i.e. the Take, Make and Waste extractive industrial model.

The Circular Economy Model

The circular economy is aimed at eliminating waste through the continual use of resources where we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract maximum value while in use then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of service life. The future success of the circular economy is primarily founded on decoupling economic activity from its environmental impact i.e. the depletion of natural resources. The circular economy is based on three principles: 

  • designing out waste and pollution 
  • keeping products and materials in use
  • regenerating natural systems

If new raw materials are needed, they must be obtained sustainably so that the natural and human environment is not damaged.

Focus on good, not less bad

Dr Umble’s final message was, “let’s all work on making the right things good and avoid working at making things less bad”.

I agree, we have for too long worked on making things less bad. It is time to do much better.

Author: Colin Cranfield: Technical Director | GWE Consulting Engineers