Scaling up industrial water reuse

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the International Water Association (IWA) are collaborating with a number of partners to develop and implement business solutions which can optimize industrial water reuse across sectors. Through the identification of cross sector innovative business solutions, this pathway aims to scale up water reuse, as well as to reduce the amount of used water discharged back to the natural environment without any treatment. 

Increased sustainability through reuse

Adequate quantity and quality of water supply for a variety of users is at the core of sustainable development. However, water use has tripled since 1950 and demand is growing rapidly.It is estimated that 80% of the used water is discharged back to the natural environment without any treatment, which reduces the potential for the water it is polluting to be used effectively.

‘Wastewater’, better rephrased as ‘used water’, is recognized as a resource that can contribute to filling the supply gap. Meeting future needs will be driven by efficiency enhancement and waste minimization. Water reuse is seen as a step towards the solution, with beneficial effects on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions control.

For industrial companies, water presents an operational challenge and a cost item, as well as an opportunity for growth. As the availability of water as a resource is localized and can be limited, this is particularly true in arid regions where water is scarce and the environment is sensitive to industrial discharges. Attention is increasingly paid to opportunities for industrial water users to conserve, reuse and share water. Incentives are straightforward: minimizing water use can bring economic savings in production costs and reduce dependency on water resource supply.

Many industries are faced with restrictions on their water usage and/or on the quality and quantity of water they can discharge. Solutions to maintain or expand operations include wastewater reuse and minimization of discharge to the environment. Other industries are investing in new technologies to take advantage of the evolving demand for water treatment chemicals, services, and equipment.

There is potential for reuse and scope for innovation (not only technical but also on collaborative approaches), both within and outside the fence: water can for instance be re-used as process water for cooling towers and boilers in various industries. Opportunities reside in concerted efforts and cooperation within and between industries (but also with municipal water and agriculture).


To spread and accelerate water reuse, we intend to

-Increase awareness on the opportunities lying in collaboration across sectors, spread smart solutions and new approaches,

-Create exchange opportunities to bridge gaps between stakeholders and key partners across sectors and facilitate the necessary partnerships and connections to develop sustainable and collaborative business models

-Develop engagement, push the boundaries of best practice, and show the true value of water reuse through the implementation of new pilot projects.


Read the report on the workshop on water reuse in the mining sector that we organised during IWA's 9th water reuse conference (Windhoek, 27-31 October 2013).

Key facts and figures
  • Most of the significant developments in water reuse have occurred in arid regions of the world including Australia, China, Mediterranean countries, Middle East and the United States. But even in temperate regions water reuse is characterized by fast development, in particular for industrial purposes, environmental enhancement and urban recycling.
  • The majority of water reuse projects worldwide are implemented for agricultural irrigation and are driven by increasing water scarcity and ever increasing agricultural water demand (Irrigation of industrial crops, fodder and seed crops, orchards, forests and so on, irrigated with secondary effluent often after storage and polishing in open lagoons such as maturation ponds- Irrigation of food crops with tertiary effluents - Unrestricted irrigation of crops consumed raw with well treated and disinfected recycled water).
  • Water reuse in urban areas includes a wide variety of applications and schemes with a common characteristic that all these purposes do not require potable water quality.
  • The most common practices of planned indirect potable reuse include aquifer recharge and reservoir replenishment. Indirect potable reuse occurs when some fraction of the raw water used for drinking purposes is of wastewater origin. Direct potable reuse refers to the introduction of purified municipal wastewater – after extensive advanced treatment beyond conventional secondary and tertiary treatment – directly into a water distribution system after extensive monitoring to assure meeting the strict water quality requirements at all times.
  • One of the greatest potentials for water reuse is to supplement or replace the potable and/or freshwater demands of industries. The inter-sector water reuse, in particular the use of recycled urban wastewater for industrial purposes, is characterised by fast growth in many countries. Although there is a wide range of industrial water uses, the major uses are: cooling system make-up water, boiler feedwater, process water, washdown water and miscellaneous uses, including site irrigation, fire protection, road cleaning, and so on.


For more information, contact Julie Oesterlé (oesterle@wbcsd.org) or Joppe Cramwinckel (cramwinckel@wbcsd.org).

The case for reuse

Among IWA's specialist groups, one focuses on reuse and around 10 are reuse related.

International Water Association Water Reuse Specialist Group

Water reuse glossary

Water recycling is a technical topic but its concepts can be expressed in simple ways. This section is here to share a common language, with a glossary of main notions around the theme of water reuse.

Link to Glossary

Reuse in action
Many businesses are now reusing water within their premises, but opportunities also lie in collaboration across sectors e.g. municipal and industry, municipal and agriculture and industry with agriculture. Cross-sector water use is increasingly contemplated and practiced, particularly in water stressed and emerging economies where water availability is a critical component to business growth and socio-economic welfare. 
These case studies present information on the development and implementation of water reuse solutions, demonstrating the business case for action by both problem owners (e.g. industry) and solution providers (e.g. technology providers), as well as other stakeholder such as regulators and policy makers.
ICMM cases are part of a report on water management in mining.

Water-Energy Interactions in Water Reuse
Editor(s): Valentina Lazarova , Kwang-Ho Choo, and Peter Cornel

Milestones in Water Reuse
The Best Success Stories
Editor(s): Valentina Lazarova, Takashi Asano, Akica Bahri, and John Anderson

Editor: WssTP, June 2013
Analysis, Technologies and Implementation
Editor(s): P Lens, L Hulshoff Pol, P Wilderer, T Asano
An International Survey of current practice, issues and needs
Editor(s): Blanca Jimenez and Takashi Asano
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