Recycle, reuse, and renew existing products. This is the circular economy, easy to understand when you think of a broken wooden coffee table, more complex if water is recycled. Yet the recovery of this natural resource is possible, thanks to technological innovations that enable sustainable growth. This is despite the fact that the global system continues to voraciously consume natural resources.
This will be discussed at Ecomondo, the fair scheduled in Rimini from 5 to 8 November, dedicated to the industrial and technological innovation of the circular economy.
From linear to circular
The linear economic model, based on “produce–consume-dispose”, is no longer sustainable, even applying the principle of efficiency to reduce the consumption of natural resources.
Better, rather, is thecircular economy, “designed to regenerate itself”, as the authoritative Ellen MacArthur Foundation calls it. In the virtuous circle, the flows of materials are of two types: biological – able to be reintegrated into the biosphere – and technical, destined to be revalued without entering the biosphere.
The integrated water cycle
Among the resources of the planet in danger, the closest to man is water, indispensable for his life, as well as for the entire ecosystem. The scientific community has been preparing for al long time the integrated water cycle model, alternative to the linear one of capture-consumption-disposal.
The global business giants, meanwhile, are not watching and are confronting each other to seize the business opportunities offered by this strand. Suffice it to say that in Italy, at present, it is estimated that 777 million turnover, 386 million euros and 4000 jobs are due to the circularity of the integrated water service.
A topical topic today is the enhancement of wastewater and sewage sludge – particularly for the production of bioplastics – to the point that even the 2017 edition of the United Nations Water Development Report had the title “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource”.
Bioplastics from sewage sludge
The production of biopolymers for the production of bioplastics from the treatment of sewage sludge also appeals to Italian universities. High-quality trials have been taking place in our country for some time, with public and private partners allied to this race to reuse waste products from the water cycle.
Disposal according to principles in line with the circular economy is a virtuous business model, which has already obtained funding from the European Commission, as a response to the growing need for disposal. The production of the sewage sludge to which the Union will arrive is estimated at 13 million tons.
In the complex treatments to which sewage sludge is subjected, a key role is assigned to bacterial fermentation. The polymers obtained include various biological, chemical and thermal processes that lead to biodegradable and reusable end products also in the field of building materials.
The important advances in science counterpoint a critical reality of water management and use in Italy. Drought water shortages are exacerbated by water dispersal in water networks, an endemic waste in the country.
There is still a long way to go to spread a culture of respect for water, even public. Starting with the one that enters the houses from the taps. According to Censis data, few use it for drinking, preferring bottled bottles: 30 million plastic and 7 glass bottles are used every day. Which means that in one year in Italy 13 and a half billion bottles become waste.