How Do Production Systems Affect Our Water?

Our popular production systems defy the practice of the natural world by moving from product to waste rather than mimicking nature’s closed-loop systems. Nature does not believe in waste. In nature, byproducts are resources.

Can we emulate nature and separate ourselves from the concept of waste in order to save our water?

Matter is neither created nor destroyed. When we “dispose” of our waste, we are not disposing of anything—we are adopting an out of sight out of mind mentality to convince ourselves that we are relieved of a problem. But that “waste problem” only creates larger problems when we “dispose” of byproducts rather than recognizing their potential.

Our careless disposal of byproducts pollutes the water we drink and the air we breathe. Because we choose to see waste as gross and useless rather than valuable, we misuse immense potential and energy. Waste is an incredible resource that we need to tap. 

Waste itself means to use carelessly, extravagantly, or without purpose. It is funny how accurately we’ve labeled our byproducts without noticing the irony. Waste by definition means squandered opportunity.

Our linear water systems are incredibly inefficient. Agriculture uses 70 percent of our freshwater, yet only 40 percent of that water actually reaches plants. Leaky pipes result in the loss of huge amounts of water before it ever reaches the intended destination. In Mexico City alone, water loss from bad pipes is enough to supply all of Rome.

By recognizing the huge potential that exists in our byproducts and in reducing our inefficiencies, we take advantage of an incredible amount of energy and resource. Circular systems are regenerative—they slow, close, and narrow material and energy loops. The byproducts of one process are captured and reused, greatly reducing energy and resource usage.

Linear systems take resources, make products, and dispose of waste without utilizing the huge capital and potential that exists in process byproduct. Linear systems fail to recognize that resources are finite, and they fail to recognize the huge economic and environmental potential in their byproducts.

We can take advantage of closed loop innovation and technology to tap into the huge amount of capital that exists in our “waste” water. The nutrients and contents in wastewater can be mined to build products. A project in Brussels, Belgium extracts matter from wastewater to make plastic. Singapore is able to clean wastewater so well that it circulates back into its water source. Mission Industry Laundry in Las Vegas, Nevada uses an in house water treatment system that recycles water from the initial washing cycle to use in the rinse cycle. Their innovation has reduced their water usage by 30% and they’ve been able to pay back the cost of the $800,000 water treatment system in two years.

While systems like this are not entirely closed-loop, they represent important steps towards production systems that eliminate the concept of waste. Waste has an awful connotation—dirty, gross, useless, untouchable. But when we change the way we look at waste and we recognize the capital and potential for energy saving and material creation, we can change the way we operate in relation to our resources. We can mimic nature by choosing a perspective that recognizes the value and potential in everything.

What do you think of closed-loop versus linear production systems? Would you like to see a transition away from linear systems and towards circular systems? How do you think a change in production might benefit our world? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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