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Circular Water Management: A framework for the transition

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Executive Summary

Lead contributor: Dr. Hernan Ruiz Ocampo

The chapter aims to address the transition of the water sector to the Circular Economy paradigm. Thus, the approach for the design of the chapter follows a strategy based on three main pillars: principles, levels, and enablers. The principles relate to the ones proposed by the Ellen McArthur Foundation (design out of waste and pollution, keep products and material in use, and regenerate natural systems) adapted to the water sector. The principles intersect with the water sector activities at different levels (micro, meso, macro), aiming to englobe and create specific focus topics divided into technologies & processes, implementation, and water management. The enablers refer to implementing digital technologies to foster the Circular Economy adoption and circular business models that aim to create value from the different circular strategies.

The chapter’s introduction describes the natural water cycle and how human activities create a linear approach in the water sector by using the water only once, from the abstraction to the disposal to the natural environment, usually without treatment. And climate change, population growth and unadopted water infrastructure to actual conditions reveal the needs and pressures in the water sector. 

Therefore, introducing a Circular Economy water framework aims to set up the scenario to the shift from a linear to a circular approach. Even if circular concepts are common in the water sector, a framework will better define the strategies for a successful shift to the Circular Economy. The water framework described in the chapter follows a combination of various propositions from the literature, including the principles from the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Six strategies emerge from the principles based on Reduce, Removal, Reuse, Recycling, Recovery and Rethink transversal to the other strategies. Implementing the strategies will enable the Circular Economy in the entire value chain of the water sector. 

The design of hybrid grey and green infrastructures needs to ensure the removal of pollutants and water quality. Applying multistakeholder governance will allow rethinking the entire water cycle with a collaborative approach, targeting the reduction of water consumption by implementing digital solutions for smart management, allowing the multiple uses of water through reuse and recycling. The recovery of resources and energy will reduce the carbon footprint of water utilities to offer zero-carbon water services and create value from water by rethinking the business models for water utilities based on the products and services derived from the successful application of strategies. Thus, implementing innovative water technologies aims to transform the water utilities into smart assets capable of ensuring the removal of pollutants and offering reuse, recycling, and resource recovery from the water streams. 

At the micro-level, the first group focused on technologies & processes for the water sector, and aims to introduce to the reader the different technologies for wastewater treatment, reclaimed water, and the recovery of energy, nutrients, minerals, and metals from water streams. The description of various legislative instruments has in view to introducing the standard limits that technologies need to accomplish to guarantee the quality of the treatment. 

At the meso level, the second focus group aims to show the implementation of the different technologies in practice. The examples include circular strategies to develop innovative solutions for decentralized domestic wastewater, wastewater in agriculture and the tourist sector, industrial symbiosis, and the recovery of resources from desalination processes. 

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Discover what's inside

Is the natural water cycle circular?

The water cycle is circular by nature, involving flux and storage processes. However, only 1% is accessible surface water for human activities. Explore the challenges of the water sector and the importance of using water wisely for the years to come.

How climate change affects the water sector?

Weather, climate, and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters, 45% of all reported deaths, and 74% reported economic losses at a global level. Extreme drought has even longer-term effects. Discover now the different impacts on the water sector.

Is the water sector applying the Circular Economy?

The water source comes from the natural environments (take). Water treatment (make) allows human consumption (use). Finally, water is returned (discharge) to the natural environment with or without treatment, using water only once. Learn how using water more than once is critical to support the Circular Economy.

Do you want to know the main components of water in the Circular Economy?

Discover the water framework for the transition in the water sector supported by three dimensions: at the systemic level (micro meso, macro), applying circular principles adapted to the water sector, and the enablers that will potentiate the Circular Economy transition.

Which are the circular strategies applied to the water sector?

Learn how circular strategies support the implementation of the water framework and explore how to include reduction, removal, reuse, recycling, recovery, replenishment, reconnecting, and rethinking concepts to develop innovative solutions for the transition in the water sector.

Is it possible to design water utilities out of waste and pollution?

Implementing tailored technologies needs to comply with the legislation to preserve the quality of natural water bodies. Learn through various examples how modular and decentralized systems design should exploit the potential of water as a carrier of valuable resources.

Can water and wastewater utilities keep products and materials in use?

Discover here the smart water factories that will facilitate the local flow of resources and materials (water, energy, nutrients, minerals, and metals) to create a systemic collaboration and foster the management of services in the water sector.

Which are the products and services expected from water utilities by applying the Circular Economy?

Explore how it is possible to obtain different products such as nutrients, minerals, metals, energy, and water for various applications (potable and non-potable) from water utilities and the synergies created with other sectors like industry, agriculture, energy, tourism, etc.

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Enrollment Information

  • Once you have enrolled, you will be given access to our Learning Management System.
  • The course is entirely online and self-paced. We estimate that the total effort required to be 3 hours.
  • You will be guided through the original content of the course with dynamic, rich, enjoyable, narrated, and easy-to-understand content. The course is divided into easily navigated sections focusing at each stage on the learning objectives to be achieved. Each section is followed by non-graded “knowledge check questions”, to help you ensure that you have successfully assimilated the content. You can go back and view the content as often as you like.
  • When you reach the end of the course, you will be awarded the Certificate of Completion.

What you will gain

  • Access to one Circular Economy course, with free access to the content for one year.
  • A digitally enabled, verifiable, and shareable certificate acknowledging your achievement.
  • One-year free membership in the Circular Economy Alliance Community, including access to Circular Economy Alliance members, resources, and events.
  • Special access to Circular Economy related events, research, resources, and news.

Please note:

  • In many EU countries, the cost of certification can be covered by personal or corporate “training accounts”. Please inquire within your organization or with the appropriate institution within your country for more information.


Circular Economy Alliance Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics

The Circular Economy Alliance platform, services, and products are designed to appeal to and be used by people from a wide variety of different backgrounds, countries, religions, and cultural norms. These diversity and inclusiveness are core values of the CEA, and we encourage our Community to embrace it and share it. That said, this geographic and cultural diversity can make effective communications and general policy definition a bit challenging.

That said, CEA is committed to advancing the transition to a just and inclusive Circular Economy which aims to decouple economic growth from resource use, eliminate waste by design, and tackle climate change. To achieve its mission and vision of a socially fair Circular Economy, CEA has adopted the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility and endeavours to promote the common good while creating value for all stakeholders. With this in mind, the Code of Conduct has been developed to ensure all activity on the platform and within the CEA community is mutually respectful. The Code of Ethics sets out the guiding ethical principles relative to all professional activities of the certified members of the Circular Economy Alliance, informs the actions of our partner network, and defines the conduct of CEA staff and persons acting on behalf of the Company.

The purpose of our Code of Conduct & Code of Ethics is to ensure that the Circular Economy Alliance platform (the Platform), products and services are inclusive and that we, our members, and our community uphold the principles and values linked to Circular Economy, social responsibility, sustainable development and all relevant domains, to ensure that people and the planet are not harmed in the name of profit, and that we all conduct ourselves with mutual respect.

Code of Conduct

The CEA Code of Conduct reflects the ethics and values of the Platform, product, services, and community. It has been prepared with members of the CEA community (the Community), content contributors, instructional designers, and administrators based on established best practices. With the involvement of our stakeholders, we will continue to update the Code of Conduct as we add new products, services, and activities and as we receive feedback from our learners and community members.

We cannot foresee all eventualities and align with all local regulations, so the Code of Conduct should indicate the nature of interactions and the social dynamic we would like to see on this Platform and within the Community. In the event of an issue not covered by this Code of Conduct, the CEA team will decide whether a behavior is acceptable or not, in a manner that is as fair and transparent as possible, while respecting the confidentiality of all involved.

This Code of Conduct applies to all activities on the Talent Learning Management Platform, the Circular Economy Alliance website, its social media pages (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Discord, etc.), including comments, forum posts, and private messages.

Certified Alumni, members of the Community, as well as candidates for Circular Economy certification are encouraged to adopt the following guidelines for conduct:

  • Contribute to maintaining a safe, supportive, and orderly online learning environment that is conducive to learning and to show respect and dignity to other persons and to property.
  • Contact or communicate with CEA administrators and other personnel in a respectful, positive manner.
  • Behave and communicate on and off the Platform in accordance with the principles of Circular Economy, social responsibility, and inclusiveness.
  • Help ensure all CEA members and personnel have a positive experience in all interactions with you.
  • Appropriate behavior we encourage is as follows: communicating and interacting with respect; demonstrating empathy and sensitivity; giving constructive feedback; acting in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, that is, showing respect for other norms, cultures, life preferences; promoting the values and principles of Circular Economy, social responsibility, and sustainable development.
  • Maintain behavior free from all forms of bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • Other forms of inappropriate behavior that will not be tolerated include dangerous, inciteful, or hateful speech; harassment or intimidation; threats of violence; intentional disruption of online discussion, webinars, conference, or other events; retaliation; influencing or encouraging any of the above.
  • We are a learning community, united around the principles of Circular Economy. As such, we encourage experimentation, a growth mindset, and tolerance for failures, mistakes, or lack of understanding.
  • Despite our shared values, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to occur in a community as diverse as the Community. In the event, have a calm discussion, ask for clarification, and don’t assume that someone is intentionally being offensive.
  • Please get in touch with the site administrators to report any conduct, posts, activity or content that you do not believe is in accordance with this Code of Conduct. We encourage the Community members to report any incidents that violate the Code of Conduct. The CEA team will respond in a timely manner, and the member who violated the Code of Conduct will be contacted directly. Please use the Contact Us link to report any breaches.
  • Please protect your own and other people’s privacy. Please be mindful not to post or otherwise share your own or other people’s personal information publicly online.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all content posted on the Talent Learning Management System is private and is not searchable online.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all content posted on the Community platform is publicly visible and searchable online.
  • If you delete your CEA Community account, you can request that your Community posts and private messages be removed or anonymized.
  • The website administrators may delete activity, comments, posts, and equivalent that do not adhere to the CEA Code of Conduct.
  • In the event of a breach of the Code of Conduct, we either issue a warning, announce an account suspension or, in the event of a grievous violation, we may announce account expulsion and removal from the platform and the Community.
  • If you are part of the Community, we share the same principles. Let’s share the responsibility for creating a positive dynamic on the Platform.

Code of Ethics 

Certified Alumni, members of the Community, as well as candidates for Circular Economy certification are strongly encouraged to uphold the highest standards of ethical norms in line with Circular Economy principles and values:

  • Act with transparency, honesty, integrity, and make the interests of society and the environment a priority, avoid any known conflicts of interest, and aim to create value for all stakeholders.
  • Promote the circularity and sustainability of the systems regulating economic life according to the principles of “people, planet and prosperity”.
  • Act with respect for others and the environment and practice their professional activities in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner that upholds the values of equity, equality and tolerance.
  • Exercise their leadership and decision-making skills in the pursuit of establishing a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace and in society.
  • Act in a way that furthers the integrity of the discipline of Circular Economy and its representatives.

The code of conduct is regularly reviewed to reflect necessary adaptations that emerge from input received through our CEA members’ reporting or by changes to the prevailing regulatory framework.

Effective as of: 1 March 2022

Last revised: 28 February 2022

More detailed information can me found in the General Terms and Conditions and the Certifications Terms and Conditions.


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