Rethinking water

Published on Friday, 7 April 2017

A year after the European Union adopted the Circular Economy European Commissioner for the Environment Package Karmenu Vella recently provided a progress report on the plan, which comprises 50 law proposals and measures aimed at increasing recycling and reducing waste. According to Karmenu, in 2016 a number of important initial actions focused on areas such as food waste, eco-design, organic fertilizers, and consumer guarantees. In addition, circular economy principles are better integrated into industrial best practices. For example: the Belgian company Umicore is implementing closed-cycle recycling of car batteries and replacement parts; the Finnish RePack is developing a sustainable packaging system for both resellers and consumers. Finally, companies such as Michelin, are shifting from retail sale of products to the provision of service and sign agreements that reduce the use of resources and provide greater benefits to their customers. 

However, the report places particular emphasis on water management and recycling. The lack of water is becoming one of the most urgent issues today, so the European Commission is setting a series of common quality requirements for water reuse throughout Europe, enabling to improve sustainable irrigation in agriculture and protection of natural resources, thereby reducing the stress of groundwater. In addition, wastewater can become a valuable resource through the reclamation and extraction of valuable substances. Advanced technologies are making it possible to remove bioplastics, fertilizers, phosphorous and biofuels from sewage systems, among other elements, and to extract cellulose, additives for asphalt, and insulation materials to be used in construction.  

This is how water used by thousands of people is treated in Great Britain, and in Treviso, Italy, a plant is used to recover phosphorous and polymers. In Milan, Metropolitana Milanese (MM), which was established in 1955 to construct the city’s underground transit system, is now working on improving the city’s integrated water management system, studying agricultural applications for the sludge produced by water purification plants. These experiences show that finding ways to operate efficiently means cutting both costs of operations and on the environment, resulting in  lower bills for end users. 

In Italy there is a structural lack of sewage systems and water purification plants compared to the rest of Europe, but many initiatives are underway in this direction. At Ecomondo, an event held recently in Rimini, the Hera Group, the City of Rimini, Romagna Acque and AMIR presented an infrastructure project worth 154 million euros to solve the problem of water containment in the event of heavy rainfall. The project, which makes use of membrane ultrafiltration technology, is expected to be completed by 2020 and will result in a 90% reduction of the polluting impact of organic substances contained in wastewater dumped into the sea.


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