Change the way resources are used for a real future

Jean-Marie Thierry, Vice-President of Business Development/Dismantling & Circular Economy, Innovation and Markets at Veolia, shares how changing the way resources are used can lead to a more sustainable world.

As our knowledge of water resources continues to grow with scientific progress and relevant measurement tools, so innovation and technology have a role to play in improving water quality and management.

Innovation and technology enable Veolia to treat pollution and to expand access to water for the greatest number of people, by doing more with less. Veolia implements over 350 processing technologies to address water management issues in all its forms – drinking water, industrial water, ultra-pure water, wastewater and seawater. With each new scientific advance, our technology changes to respond to new challenges.

Industrial activity has an impact on not just water but on all resources, whether materials or energy. Today, confronted with the world’s dwindling resources, the circular economy is one of the most effective responses for fairer and more sustainable economic growth. The aim is not environmental protection but rather security of supply. Wherever we operate, we introduce economic loops in which the waste items of some become resources for others. In the Netherlands, for example, we supply household appliance manufacturer Philips with premium quality recycled plastic to replace virgin material. This makes Philips’s supply more secure, as the source and production are local, and it reduces their carbon footprint.

Water scarcity is one of the main problems faced by many societies. Individuals, agriculture and industry are competing for the same resource which by nature is not elastic; however, the circular economy can make it elastic. An example is Durban, South Africa where the aim was to encourage the city’s growth while at the same time reducing pressure on water resources. Together with the local authorities, we upgraded and optimised wastewater treatment making it possible for local industries to reuse this treated water. Now, 98% of the city’s wastewater is recycled. This model is a win-win for us all. Industry pays 60% less for its water than when it was buying drinking water and the city has settled a major usage conflict between its residents and economic stakeholders. It all started 15 years ago but we have not stopped innovating. We have just installed a pilot system for capturing biogas from the wastewater treatment sludge in order to find a new source of renewable energy for the City of Durban. It is a continuous innovation process.

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