Circular Economy of Water: Definition, Strategies and Challenges

Piero Morseletto*, Caro Eline Mooren, Stefania Munaretto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


The circular economy has attracted considerable attention also in relation to water, an indispensable element to the sustainment of life and a critical input resource for the world economy. Despite a growing body of research on the circular economy of water (CEW), a consistent terminology and a clear conceptualisation of CEW strategies are lacking. Without such aspects, decision-makers, scientists and professionals may be hindered in developing a shared understanding of problems and solutions and exploiting new opportunities in the domain of the CEW. Furthermore, we argue that water is a unique element in the circular economy because it is a resource, a product and a service with no equivalent in the economic system and should be considered and valued as such in the CEW. Accordingly, we provide the definition of the CEW as an economic framework for reducing, preserving and optimising the use of water through waste avoidance, efficient utilisation and quality retention while ensuring environmental protection and conservation. Building on an analysis of academic literature and cases studies, we outline and illustrate a set of nine CEW strategies, including Rethink, Avoid, Reduce, Replace, Reuse, Recycle, Cascade, Store and Recover. Finally, we identify normative (legislation), governance (roles and responsibilities) and implementation (barriers and opportunities for application) challenges that need to be addressed to facilitate the transition to a comprehensive CEW.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1463-1477
Number of pages15
JournalCircular Economy and Sustainability
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Lisa Andrews, Ruud Bartholomeus, Jos Frijns, Jan Hofman, Kees Roest, Andrew Segrave, Els van der Roest, Tessa van den Brand, and Kees van Leeuwen.

Funding Information:
This study has reviewed (a) projects conducted in the context of the collective research programme Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE), an initiative of the Dutch and Flemish drinking water utilities and KWR Water Research Institute, and (b) case studies conducted in the context of NextGen, a research project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No. 776541. For this research, Caro Eline Mooren and Stefania Munaretto received funding from the BTO-WiCE research programme of KWR.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


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