Blog by Marjolein Demmers, AquaMinerals Supervisory Board member
It has actually been clear for years that we can, without too much difficulty, live cleaner, healthier and more consciously – and that it is important that we also start doing so …
All raw materials in the ‘Earth’ system have and retain value. Everything in the biosphere on Earth is part of cyclical processes; in principle, nothing disappears and nothing is added, apart from solar light. Our linear economic model throws this system out of balance. We extract raw materials from the Earth’s crust and, after using them, ‘dump’ them into the biosphere. We often stamp residual streams and scrapped products as useless and problematic ‘waste’. This is both harmful and unsustainable. That’s why we’re going to make the economy circular! This is policy in the Netherlands, but it is also part of an extensive global plan of all the members of the United Nations to achieve a sustainable world in 2030 – the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The drinking water companies and AquaMinerals are a great example of the use of residual streams and raw materials: they demonstrate that this can be done by working in partnership! Which is fitting, since ‘partnership’ is also the last sustainable development goal: SDG17! I hope this example proves inspirational to others.
Drinking water companies provide clean, safe and responsible drinking water. But the companies’ societal responsibility extends a lot further. Water is a natural and circular product par excellence. Drinking water companies are a part of the cycle, a role they perform very consciously. When abstracting the water, they make sure that their ‘sources’ are, and are kept, as a clean and stable as possible. During the water treatment process, they of course make use of agents and UV light. The water is thus purified and substances like iron and calcium are released. These so-called ‘residual streams’ shouldn’t be disposed of, they should be used. And the drinking water companies see this as well!
Making good use of the residual streams requires that the substances be of the required quality, but also that they be supplied in specified volumes. With this in mind, drinking water companies, and recently waterboards as well, have combined their forces in AquaMinerals. Together, they study how they can maximise their focus on quality. And by offering companies’ combined volumes, AquaMinerals can find clients that can actually make good use of the substances. The gap between the generation of the ‘residuals’ and the demand for ‘raw materials’ is thus closed. This is hugely valuable, both figuratively and literally!
This calls for effort and collaboration from all those involved. Focusing on the quality of the residual streams is an ‘extra’ task. Drinking water companies can (partly through AquaMinerals) learn from each other. This also implies that others will be coming into their ‘kitchen’, that they have to open themselves up. The ‘self-interest’ of the individual water companies is not the dominant consideration, since they achieve more by collaborating with others; by jointly ensuring the quality of a larger, and therefore more saleable, stream. In addition, it is important to dovetail with the ‘demand’ for raw materials. What are the clients’ requirements? The better these are met, the easier it is to sell the material. At times it has to undergo a processing stage for a perfect match between supply and demand. Partnership makes such an investment possible: yet another attractive feature of this initiative.
By being very knowledgeable of both aspects – both supply and demand opportunities – the companies can, with AquaMinerals as the expert bridge-builder – realise high-value applications. A great deal has already been achieved, but many more prospects lie on the horizon!