On April 30th, we hosted our second webinar in the sub-thematic webinar series of 4. The webinar was showered with interest from over 660 participants spreading across 77 countries. The main focus of the webinar was to unravel some of the above mentioned solutions and share good practices from industries, cities and utilities with practical examples.
Six speakers shared their work, experiences and practices on the topic: Mark van Loosdrecht (Chair professor in environmental biotechnology, TU Delft), Jan-Willem Vosmeer (Sustaianbility Officer, Heineken), Dimitris Xevgenos (Innovation Manager, Zero Brine), Willemien van Asselt (Coordinator for International relations and Cooperation, Topsector Agri&Food), Nynke Hofstra (Assistant Professor Water Systems and Global Change, Wageningen University) and Hans Stielstra (Deputy Head, Directorate of Environment, EU).
Video of the webinar (written report below):
“One size doesn’t fit all”
The webinar opened with Mark van Loosdrecht introducing the different terms. Reuse, recycle, recover, reclamation and sharing current developments from industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater. He shared his work in developing solutions considering local water situations. “One size doesn’t fit all,” he mentioned. There should be integration of processes and a sound business case developed to create sustainable and circular solutions viable for the market.
Recovering nutrients, chemicals, energy and organic matter from waste can be converted into useful products to optimise energy consumption and produce by-products that can be fed back into the system in an alternate useful form. Mark mentioned the term ‘Energy Autarky’ from the operational point of view. The term has been in theoretical and practical development for over a decade and is currently implemented for sustainable regional development. This approach implies, as Mark outlined, cutting off the intermediate energy supplier, and focussing on local consumption, local production and reuse of waste for example to produce biogas, biomass for electricity generation; can significantly reduce operational costs of an industry.
Another recovery of materials is of nutrients like phosphate which is prevalent by Water utilities. The recover and reuse of phosphate reduces handling costs, saves maintenance and other internal costs. However, for other sectors, due to limited availability of the product in market, its value chain still needs to developed and adopted.
Examples of cellulose which is a chemical recovered from discarded toilet paper from sewage, as Mark mentioned, is also an important substance which has limitations in market-based value chain development. Mark mentioned about another alternative to oil-based materials in the form of bio-based resource: Kaumera. It is recovered from aerobic granular sludge through wastewater treatment process and is a sustainable bio-resource.
Highlighting primary challenges in resource recovery, reuse and recycle; Mark mentioned about the limitations of the value of these products which is low to drive recovery processes and make these solutions viable. One potential solution that drives circularity and sustainability, could be to demonstrate and develop value-chain and logistical plans for the recovered resources from wastewater treatment in order to make them a viable market option.
Story of Heineken’s Sustainability strategy 2030 and circular mission
To provide the industrial perspective, Jan-Willem Vosmeer from the popular beer brand- Heineken, presented the recently adopted three-fold sustainability strategy of the company. Heineken’s sustainability strategy has three-defined pillars- environmental pillar to drive zero impact approach; social pillar to realise inclusive, fair and equitable world and responsible pillar towards the path of no harmful use.
Heineken’s strategy is to consider watershed management at the centre of differential activities in water reuse, recycle and treatment, agricultural reuse, reforestation and aquifer management. At the same time, maximising circularity and sustainability in implementing processes. One of the examples that Jan-Willem shared was from one of the 30 water-stressed regions where Heineken has brewery plants, Spain. The three-fold strategy is around efficiency, circularity and stewardship. In order to attain maximum potential out of the industrial processes, the by-products and wastewater should be treated to optimal levels before distributing it to local farmers for irrigation, storing, in replenishment projects, reforestation, smart agricultural solutions and aquifer recharge through constructed wetlands. Secondary uses also included examples from Mexico and Indonesia where neighbouring paper industries utilised the treated wastewater as input in their processing plants. In order to maximally re-using treated water; the recovered resource was then utilised in biogas production and supplied to heat water in boilers.
He highlighted the COVID-19 impacts, that brought back several unused beers; which were also fed-back into the system of energy production; thus managing circularity in operation.
Resource recovery through circular economy approach
‘Çlosing the loop’ is crucial to enabling circular approach. In the case of Zero Brine project, discharge of saline wastewater from industries instead can be utilized to recover and reuse essential minerals. In order to discuss about differential uses of saline water, optimal resource recovery from treated wastewater; Dimitris Xevgenos; introduced the different components of Zero Brine project. The project resulted in developing demonstration sites with different technological interventions in Turkey, Poland, Netherlands and other regions. One of the major challenges, he highlighted included regulatory limitations.
Examples include that of Precipitated silica being a market competitor to the phased out black carbon; nevertheless limited by production and price regulations. “Technological developments exist, however there are other aspects that drive the development of business case around the recovered resources”, he added. Thus, emphasising the legislative and regulatory aspects behind circular economy approaches.
Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture and animal industry
Willemien van Asselt, also gave examples from Netherlands regarding the focus of public-private partnerships in food and agriculture sector. “Efficient use of technology and energy to treat wastewater and recover resources is crucial”, she emphasised. In the example of a mission-driven approach, they challenge local farmers, innovators, technology experts, industries, companies and individuals to develop ideas and demonstrate localised solutions. These solutions when extracted through bottom-up strategy and active dialogue with stakeholders provides for climate-resilient and sustainable solutions, which are locally accepted and implemented.
Giving example from Vietnam collaboration, Willemien highlighted high consumption of water by animal industry which is still a challenge in treated water re-use. Her example from Mexico, where public-private partnership has resulted in a circular process. Innovations and ideas from local stakeholders has resulted in re-using treated wastewater in horticulture through algae-based treatment process. The resulting algae is fed-back to poultry, creating a circular system.
Connecting the dots: wastewater, treated water and health risks
Nynke Hofstra shared the safe resource recovery perspective by linking it to health risks. Main contaminants- pathogens and chemicals depending on the use, exposure and source of water can cause varied health risks. She pointed out that the quality of recovered treated water and nutrients should vary with the purpose of its utilization. Giving examples of varying health risks when treated water is used in vegetable production vis-à-vis when it is used in corn or rice; when polluted surface water is used in industrial processes vis-à-vis effluent or primary treated water.
Most prominent health risks leads to diarrhoeal burden which is the case in most of the regions. Directing towards the good practices, Nynke mentioned about creating awareness and linking water, treated water, wastewater to different uses and associated health risks. Another intervention could be adding barriers which is dependent on use and source. For example, World Health Organisation proposed sanitation safety plans where identification of barriers, depending on related variables can help create a wastewater reuse plan where thrust is also laid upon maintenance and operation cost of these plans.
EU Urban Wastewater Directive: Public Dialogue and Discussion
Hans Stielstra, pointed out the importance and contribution of recently open public dialogue around the directive. Existing wastewater directive focuses on only agriculture as a potential reuse sector, however there exists several other technologies, good practices and solutions where nexus or integrated approaches are preferred.
Hans also mentioned about the challenges with 27 EU member states with different geography, economic capacity and resource distribution; making it difficult to standardise the regulations.
Thus, he urges people to contribute to the public consultation through their ideas, practices and experiences.
Current progression around wastewater treatment, reclaim, reuse and recycling of resources has paved the groundwork to implement resource recovery value chains. Pharmaceuticals, micropollutants and bacteriological pollution has unmasked the flaws in existing water circulation and distribution systems.
Local and decentralized solutions for drinking water production and distribution; water utilization for food production; efficient technologies are some of the current advancements with a potential positive impact.
Community-led local solutions can support in implementation of resilient, sustainable and scalable practices. Building towards locally resourced and implemented solutions, sharing best practices, lessons learned and resource-use efficiency achieved can further push sectors towards environment-friendly solutions and resilient systems.
- Systems thinking is essential to understand the integrated approach and inter-dependent impacts of interventions.
- Good practices include the production of Kaumera, Cellulose, Nutrients, Heineken’s watershed management approach towards circularity and sustainability missions, scaling-up of demonstrations inspired from examples of Zero Brine implemented in Poland and optimal use of treated wastewater as a resource in agriculture as well as animal industry.
- Water as a shared resource should be managed through integrated practices at systemic level. In this case, the ownership of water is not of the industry’s or of individuals’ just because they have utilised the resource for utilisation.
- Business-as-usual needs to transition towards value-based resource-recovery solutions in order to avoid subsidy or taxation issues associated varying in different regions.
- Sewer to Brewer strategy especially in the case of Hieneken still needs to be explored despite the existing potential with advancements in technology. Primary reasons could be religious, regulatory or reputational vulnerability of the brand itself.
Next webinar: Water Solutions #3: Risks and Resilience
May 28th, our next webinar will take place. This third webinar focusses on Climate risks and resilience associated with water scarcity and floods. Expect cases, good practices on smart data driven systems for risk reduction, adaptation and resilience approach of megacities, medium and small sized-cities. More speakers to be announced. For more information and to register click here.