Overall definition and context of the topic
The transition to a circular economy, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised, is a priority for the EU . Water is one of those key resources in the transition and the circular urban water management is of a particular focus.
Waste water is the largest untapped waste category of circular economy. Re-use of water (for instance for urban irrigation) could improve from separation of water from chemical contaminants. Water and waste water systems are significant energy consumers in Europe (according to ENERWATER project (H2020) the 22 000 waste water treatment plants in Europe use more than 1% of the overall electricity consumption in the EU) . The European Commission adopted in February 2018 a proposal for a revised drinking water directive to improve the quality of drinking water and provide greater access and information to citizens. It will help EU countries to manage drinking water in a resource-efficient and sustainable manner so as to reduce energy use and unnecessary water loss. It will also help reduce the number of plastic bottles following increased confidence in tap water, improved access and promotion of use of drinking water. In line with the principles of the new European pillar of social rights, the proposal contains an obligation for EU countries to improve access to safe drinking water for all and to ensure access for vulnerable and marginalised groups.
At the same time, the European Commission has launched an evaluation of the Urban Waste Water Directive with the objective to identify what has worked and what are the remaining key challenges in the collection and treatment of urban waste waters.
Among the many sectors facing specific challenges in the context of the circular economy, the European Commission is also taking decisive steps on plastic recycling. In May 2018 was proposed new EU-wide rules to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear, as part of European Plastics Strategy to tackle wasteful and damaging plastic litter. The measures proposed will contribute to Europe's transition towards a Circular Economy, and to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU's climate commitments and industrial policy objectives.
Relevance for and role of urban authorities
Urban authorities have a solid experience in providing waste management as a service of general interest. Cities can also drive the change towards more sustainable modes of production and consumption. They have a key role in fighting littering and reducing amounts of solid waste spread in the environment including in the rivers and finally at sea. New obligations for producers of single use plastic items will be put in place thorough the future Directive on single use plastics, including the obligation to finance actions to reduce litter. Cities will be in first line to implement concretely these new requirements.
Cities are very often responsible for sustainable, efficient and equitable management of water (incl. drinking water supply and waste water treatment). Good management in networks and installations have positive impacts on maintenance costs and investments at local level. Furthermore, urban authorities are close to citizens when it comes to affordability issues.
Prompts for urban authorities
Without being prescriptive in terms of the types of projects expected, cities are invited to consider in particular the following points and issues:
Innovative solutions for the reduction of plastics and other pollutants such as pharmaceuticals in urban waste and waste water streams, with a focus on:
- single use plastics (that most frequently end up in the oceans as specified in the Directive on single use plastics);
- collection of plastic litter, micro plastics and other pollutants from water run-off and storm water overflows;
- promote collection and separate treatment of waste water polluted by pharmaceuticals at typical hotspots.
Innovative solutions for more circular urban water management, including:
- making waste water collection and treatment plants climate-neutral or climate-positive - reducing energy consumption / energy production;
- exploit the full potential of the re-use of urban waste water;
- better water use efficiency / reduction of water consumption, and improving water access and affordability for the vulnerable and marginalised groups.
As this is the second time that the topic of Circular Economy is included in a UIA Call for Proposals, we would recommend that applicants look at those projects approved in the second Call for Proposals.