Water & Wastewater Asia Sep/Oct 2019

Water & Wastewater Asia • September / October 2019 40 | OPINION Business raising its ambition to meet the wastewater opportunity M ost of the data related to the global status of water and sanitation is shocking: billions without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, demand for freshwater projected to outstrip supply and 80 per cent of all wastewater discharged directly into the environment without treatment. Whilst universal access to WASH and securing freshwater supplies are intrinsically complex challenges, requiring systemic change and huge investment within a generally weak governance setting, the wastewater challenge is more shocking when one considers the opportunity it presents. As highlighted in the 2017 UN-Water World Water Development Report (Wastewater: The Untapped Resource): “Wastewater can be a cost-effective and sustainable source of energy, nutrients and other recoverable by-products. The costs of improved wastewater management are usually outweighed by benefits in terms of human health, socioeconomic development and environmental sustainability.” Business has a key role to play in realising this opportunity. In 2017, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) published its Business Guide to Circular Water Management. Central to this was the concept of the 5Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore and Recover, a now common mantra used to describe how business can embrace circularity principles and take steps to improve their water efficiency. The guide highlighted several examples of how businesses were embracing these principles: L’Oreal, EDF, P&G and Nestle, for example, and often involved optimising existing processes or implementing new technologies within their own facilities. Whilst resulting in efficiency gains at specific sites, the contribution to water security in a broader basin context, was often negligible. This is not because businesses didn’t want to have a greater impact, but rather that the regulatory environment and the economic conditions often don’t enable it. An example that illustrates the potential scale and benefits that can be realised if the regulatory and market conditions are right is Aquapolo in Brazil. At its inauguration in 2012, Aquapolo was the largest water reuse project in Brazil. The plant was developed and financed through a public-private partnership including Braskem, the largest petrochemical