Water photo created by aleksandarlittlewolf - www.freepik.com
In 2015 the UN put a spotlight on the dire state of the world’s water resources. They predicted that, by the year 2030, the world’s demand for clean water would surpass supply by 40%, with the fear that half of the world’s population would suffer from lack of clean water.
In order to battle this lack of water and other resources, the UN implemented the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals): 17 goals for the year 2030 to save our resources, focusing on the hardest hit areas around the globe. As part of the SDG framework, the UN supports initiatives around the globe that can help turn these goals into reality.
Circular Water Strategies and the 5Rs
A circular strategy integrates a product’s waste back into the system as a resource. When applied to a water system, this loop is achieved through what is known as the 5R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, restore and recover. These measures can be implemented in many sectors of society, from industry to agriculture and from local to national stakeholders.
Circular Water Strategies in Industry and Agriculture
Industry is a major consumer of water resources. As much as 57% of water used in Europe is for the industrial sector. And though industrial water utilization in the US has decreased 9% over the past 10 years, it still comprises 47% of the water used. Worldwide, including non-developed countries, it is estimated that agriculture accounts for 70% of water usage. Studies have shown that industry could lower its water consumption by as much as 50% if given financial incentives or subjected to government-initiated water saving regulations. 
When industry or agriculture employs a circular strategy it is generally a three stage cycle:
- Reduce – Reduce water loss and increase water efficiency
- Reuse – Reuse with no or minimal treatment, within or outside of the premises, for the same or different usage
- Recycle – Treat the wastewater with a membrane or reverse osmosis and recycle it for industrial use
These three Rs are considered the best options for sustaining our limited water supply. Reuse and recycle do not only save natural water resources, they are a more reliable source of water than rainfall since they are not affected by seasonal drought or other weather anomalies. Other reduce-reuse-recycle benefits include:
- They are far less expensive than options like desalination.
- They reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- In the case of agriculture, they often reduce the need for fertilizer. 
Breaking Down Barriers to Circular Water Systems
If moving to a circular water strategy is so beneficial, then why are people still hesitant to make the move? Here are three major obstacles to implementing this change and how they can be overcome:
- Regulations and preconceived notions regarding treated water. The quality of treated water is a major concern to both businesses and the general public. Despite the giant steps forward in water purification technologies and methods, there is still a fear that treated water is not safe for public use. And there are currently many governments that make it difficult or even impossible to use treated wastewater in the manufacturing of consumer goods.
These obstacles to change can be overcome by educating legislators and local communities about the advantages of changing current regulations and preconceptions. Not only is there no fear of harm to the population, the changes will save money and resources for everyone’s benefit.
- Cost of deploying and maintaining a circular water system. These costs are significant and will be an obstacle to change as long as water boards measure return on investment exclusively in terms of dollars and cents. In addition, water cost models are too often based on energy models. This is a mistake because energy strategies are global, while water costs are always local–dependent on each community’s water sources and access to these sources.
Understanding the true costs and value of water in the local context is necessary to ensure that wise long-term decisions are made about investing in circular water systems. Both long-term factors and local requirements must be worked into the equation.
- Lack of awareness on the part of business, government and the general population. If key management and leadership personnel are not aware of the need for change, change will not take place.
Here it is important to educate decision-makers about the cost of putting off change until the water situation reaches a crisis point. Hard data should be used to present the full costs of a water shortage catching businesses and the public unprepared. Seeing that planning for the future and dealing with the problem before it becomes a crisis is less expensive than putting things off can change the mindset of the most conservative executives and regulators. 
UNESCO Praises 5 European Cities for Circular Water Achievements
In December 2020 UNESCO issued a 218-page report “Water reuse within a circular economy context” that promotes a circular water strategy at the city level. The report uses four cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Paris) and one region (Flanders, Belgium) as exemplary case studies.
The Netherlands leads the way, with a national goal of 100% circular water economy by the year 2050. They are actively trying to change the EU fertilizer rules and regulations so that wastewater will be considered a viable source for fertilizer production.
Spain has an ambitious circular water program that it hopes to deploy nationally by 2030. In addition to water reuse they are planning a complete Green and Circular Program that includes water, solar energy, recycling, and all processes related to food production and distribution.
The Flanders 2050 Vision project supports technologies that can contribute to successful 5R circular water systems. They have designated a region in which new technologies can be tested in a real-life setting. For example, they are currently testing new ways to filter and reuse water in the textile sector.
Paris has been running a very successful program called “Cradle to Cradle” for the past three years. The program includes reusing wastewater for fertilizer and as a source of energy for heating public buildings.
The EU report publicly applauds all of the above cities and countries for the measures that they are taking to not only maintain, but increase our water resources for the future. 
The Final Note
Our planet’s water sources are under constant threat from global warming, overuse and abuse, microplastics and other pollutants, to name just a few of the ongoing challenges. Circular water strategies are an inspiring response to these threats.
International bodies such as UNESCO are helping to educate the world about the necessity of circular water systems. They are encouraging both the private and public sectors to replace their water management policies with a strategy that will be beneficial for generations to come.
We at Arad are part of the effort to conserve and preserve water resources. Contact one of our representatives to see how we can help you save money while carefully stewarding your precious water sources.