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Water Reuse at the Heart of Europe’s Circular Economy, Where are We Now?

Mar 28th, 2017 |

Water reuse, reclaiming water for treatment so that it can be reused for various purposes, is a central element to managing water more efficiently and closing the loop of resource consumption. Extending the life cycle of water resources is essential in a time when water shortages and droughts becoming more intense and frequent and affect a greater number of people. Water reuse is a central element of a number of EU’s regulatory frameworks, from the Urban Waste Water Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the Groundwater Directive, but a Fitness Check of EU water policy in 2012 highlighted the need to strengthen measures for water reuse even further. It was understood that a stronger policy for water reuse in the EU, combined with more communication on the associated cost, health and environmental benefits, would stimulate the uptake of water reuse in the EU.

With the European Commission’s adoption of the Circular Economy Package in 2015, the target to increase resource reuse became even more concrete. The package would stimulate initiatives to close water cycles and engage the appropriate industries and policy makers to address the legal, technical and political aspects of water reuse. As a first step, the Commission opened a public consultation for recommendations on the most suitable EU-level instruments to foster water reuse. The results from this consultation fed into the general assessment on “Optimizing Water Reuse in the EU” and provided the basis for the publication of a more targeted assessment of proposed “Minimum Quality Requirements for Reused Water in the EU”.

At the end of 2016 a technical proposal for minimum quality requirements was set forth and the final legislative proposal for the requirements are set to be published at the end of 2017. In parallel, the Commission will continue to support innovation and research and incorporate reuse into integrated water planning and management guidelines.

It is clear, however, that increased investments in water reuse are necessary to optimise treatment processes, reduce cost and increase safety.  While EU initiatives regulating water reuse can be key tools ensure such investments, they can also take the form of technical support to sectors, such as the BREFs (Best Available Techniques Reference Document) on water reuse in industry. CDP also recommended that companies set global goals which focus on water reuse in its recent report “When wastewater isn’t wasted” such as; commitments to “implement water reuse projects in 25% of our plants by 2020” or “recycle the water used in our operations by returning treated process water to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life”.

In order to achieve these goals, new developments in technology and advancements in biological and chemo-physical treatment will be central to innovation and modelling tools will help identify key areas for water recycling in the production chain. Alternatively, for agriculture, irrigation remains a key challenge for the sector, while for urban water use, defined business models should help attract investment into water reuse initiatives and schemes.

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