Rethinking the water cycle: How moving to a circular economy can preserve our most vital resource

McKinsey/Martin Stuchtey
Knowledge hub

This article will provide a more in-depth insight in what the idea of a circular economy can mean for the water sector. It is an addition to the document 'Unleashing the power of the circular economy', which can also be found in this library.

In his short reflection, Martin Stuchtey warns that if we continue 'business as usual', the global demand for water will exceed the viable resources by 40 percent in 2030. But there is a solution - after every use, we need to ensure it will be fed back into the system cleanly, so it can be used by other users (households, agriculture, industry, flora and fauna) without any negative effects. This is called the circular economy. More and more, we are able to reduce the pollution, and reduce demand. However, we're not there yet. More innovation, and partnerships between the designers and the different sectors using water, should be part of the solution.

An interesting insight is that water can be divided into 3 categories, which all need a different sustainability approach:

  • A product: then water should be used as often as possible before safely returning to the biosphere
  • A durable: it should be kept in a closed loop under zero liquid discharge
  • A consumable: water should not be mixed with anything that is too difficult to extract (for instant toxic ink from bad quality toilet paper, or hormones)