CAF - Development Bank of Latin America / Stockholm International Water Institute / The Rockefeller Foundation / CAF - Development Bank of Latin America / The Rockefeller Foundation / World Resources Institute

Water in the circular economy: opportunities and challenges

Sunday 27 August | 11.00-12.30 | Room: FH 307
Photo: iStock

We can no longer afford to follow a linear water paradigm where water is used once and then discarded. A transition from a linear to circular economy paradigm for water and wastewater is essential to address current and projected water challenges. A circular economy requires that the value of water and its associated wastes are internalized in economic decisions which will, in turn, drive innovation in public policy, financing, business models, and technology.

This seminar will address several critical questions to be addressed by researchers and stakeholders as we collectively transition to a circular water economy. These include how to:

  1. Overcome current challenges and take advantage of opportunities
  2. Leverage and accelerate cutting-edge innovations
  3. Apply collective action frameworks to mobilize stakeholders and achieve a bold vision  


Leveraging the Circular Economy and Current Barriers

11:00 Introduction  

11:10 Circular Economy and Water Keynote
Nick Jeffries, Ellen McArthur Foundation

11:25   Bringing the Circular Economy to Life Keynote
Astrid Michels, GIZ

11:40  Panel
Moderator: Carlos Diaz, CAF

  • Urban Water Services Transitioning to a Circular Economy
    Astrid Michels, GIZ
  • Local Circular Economy Loops Between Sectors
    Martine Vullierme, Veolia
  • 'One Water' Strategies for Corporate Engagement
    Alex Money, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment
  • Circular Infrastructure
    Gyewoon Choi
    , Incheon National University

12:15   Panel Q&A
Moderator: Carlos Diaz, CAF

12:30   Conclusions of Session


We can no longer afford to embrace a linear water paradigm where water is used once and then discharged. A transition from a linear to circular economy paradigm for water and wastewater is essential to address our current and projected water challenge.

Our Seminar, Water in the Circular Economy, explored opportunities across diverse sectors for water efficiency, resource capture, water reuse, and a reduction in impacts from pollution and climate change. Experts emphasized that the technology needed to promote a circular water economy already exists. However, social stigma, prohibitive regulations, financial limitations, and a shortage of circular economy trained staff are major barriers to wide scale adoption. Efforts in several areas are helping overcome these challenges though:

  • Leading edge models of knowledge sharing (e.g., One Water, George Hawkins' public-public knowledge-sharing and assistance) are decreasing risk to enable innovation and the adoption of new Circular Economy solutions
  • Advancements in real-time water quality data, which can help drive innovation, fit for purpose use, and adoption of the circular economy, in part by building trust with consumers in the quality of their water
  • Integration of waste solutions, partnerships with other industries, and decentralized models are enabling more locally tailored, innovative, and often more cost efficient solutions

When it comes to implementation, the stark reality of water scarcity often drives cities and countries to adopt circular economy solutions, but that may be too late. So how do we drive more proactive adoption, particularly when the water sector is already severely underfunded? Drawing on their diverse experiences, our experts found that articulating water’s value in a variety of ways (e.g., operational risk, financial, social license to operate, carbon reduction) can help garner proactive buy-in from different stakeholders.

In looking to the future, there are exciting opportunities to expand partnerships into new industries, refine innovative nutrient capture (e.g., pharmaceuticals, insect bio-reactor), and develop decentralized models.