Around the world, there is a move towards a circular economy where products and waste materials are reused, repaired, refurbished, and recycled with significant economic and environmental benefits. In the context of water resources management, a key aspect of the circular economy is maximising the use of water in industrial processes.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the total amount of waste has constantly grown as economic growth has been based on a “take-make-consume-dispose” model. This linear model assumes resources are abundant, available, and cheap to dispose of. While the current linear economic model has generated an unprecedented level of growth, it has led to constraints on the availability of natural resources due to rising demand, generation of waste, and environmental degradation.
From the sustainable development perspective, the linear economy is leading to the rapid accumulation of human and physical capital at the expense of natural capital, impacting the ability of current generations to ensure future generations have at least the same level of welfare. While weak sustainability proponents argue that depleted natural capital can be replaced by even more valuable physical and human capital, the strong view is that natural capital should be protected, not depleted, due to it being exhaustible, often unevenly distributed geographically, limited in availability at times, and undervalued, as associated benefits, including their non-use benefits, are not reflected in market prices of natural resources.
Circular Economy In a circular economy scenario, products and waste materials are reused, repaired, refurbished, and recycled with significant economic and environmental benefits. A key aspect of the circular economy is that materials, which have accumulated in the economy, constitute important man-made stocks. They can be exploited through recycling to gain secondary raw materials and reused and remanufactured to keep products in the commercial lifecycle. The overall aim of the circular economy is to decouple economic growth from resource use and associated environmental impacts. Water in the Circular Economy Around the world, water utilities are beginning to apply circular economy principles, aiming to reduce water usage and reuse and recycle water to lower demand for scarce water resources while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Translating circular economy principles means maximising the use of water in industrial processes. The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 estimates that global water demand for manufacturing will increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050, which is larger than any other sector. Enhancing Industrial Water Efficiency in Toronto The City of Toronto is experiencing rapid population growth, using the capacity of Toronto Water infrastructure faster than projected. At the same time, ageing water infrastructure is placing unanticipated stress on the water system. Toronto Water operates the Water Efficiency for Business initiative, encouraging businesses to use water more efficiently. Ultimately, this lowers operating costs, enhances the organisation’s public image by demonstrating their commitment to the environment, and increases competitiveness by saving money and attracting new loyal customers. To enhance industrial water efficiency, Toronto Water operates the “Industrial Water Rate Program” which offers a discounted water rate to manufacturers in Toronto to help support economic growth, while encouraging water conservation. The city has a 2 block rate structure, with a second block rate providing a 30% discount for eligible industrial customers. The Program is open to manufacturers that use more than 5,000 m3 of water annually, fall within the industrial property class and have submitted a comprehensive water conservation plan to the satisfaction of Toronto Water. Exploring Industrialised Water Solutions in Singapore In Singapore, water demand is currently about 430 million gallons a day, with the domestic sector consuming 45% and the non-domestic sector taking up the rest. By 2060, Singapore’s total water demand could almost double, with the non-domestic sector accounting for about 70%. This upwards trend in water demand combined with economic growth has led to Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) facilitating the private sector’s uptake of industrial water solutions. PUB’s Industrial Water Solutions Demonstration Fund has been launched to support high-impact and innovative projects to treat and reclaim fresh water from industrial used water for process reuse. Companies that consume more than 10,000 m3 are invited by the utility to submit proposals that make at least a 5% reduction in water consumption through reuse. Conclusion Leading water utilities have implemented a range of incentives for industrial water users to reduce, reuse, and recycle water, including lower water rates for manufacturers that develop comprehensive water conservation strategies and funding for industrial customers to develop innovative solutions that reuse industrial water.
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