The circular economy in the water world

With the rise of the circular economy, where products and waste materials are reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled, water utilities need to understand the flow of resources – water and non-water – in and out of cities.

One water utility leading the way in implementing the circular economy is Berlin’s Berliner Wasserbetriebe.

Berliner Wasserbetriebe leading the circular economy

Berliner Wasserbetriebe is an integrated water and sewage utility that has the responsibility to optimize its systems and processes to not only manage water and associated resources efficiently but also reduce carbon emissions in support of the State of Berlin’s climate protection objectives. The utility’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

Berlin's water utility leading the way forwards in the circular economy

Berlin’s water utility leading the way forwards in the circular economy

Waste to energy

To manage resources efficiently, and reduce carbon emissions, the utility’s Schönerlinde sewage treatment plant is turning sewage sludge into sewage gas to generate power and heat. Additionally, the utility has constructed 3 wind turbines, with a capacity of 2 MW each, as well as 2 micro gas turbines to complement the plant’s CHP unit. Overall, around 84% of the energy required by the plant is produced internally, saving up to 13,000 tons of carbon emissions per year.

Recycling waste and generating good will

Berliner Wasserbetriebe has also developed a patented process for recovering phosphorous from its sewage treatment plants. The recovered phosphorous is sold under the brand name ‘Berliner Pflanze’ (Berlin Plant) to horticulture and agriculture producers in the surrounding areas of the city. In 2015, Berliner Pflanze won the Greentec Award for environmentally-friendly recycling products.

The take-out

In the transition towards the circular economy, water utilities can implement innovative technologies that not only reduce resource usage and lower carbon emissions but also generate goodwill.

*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley) and founder of Mitidaption, which consults on climate change risks to business, governance and society.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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