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Water Stewardship in a Circular Island Economy

Caribbean islands face specific challenges related to the pollution of seawater and availability and quality of freshwater. Pollution of marine areas from land-based activities such as poorly treated sewage effluents, and industrial and agricultural runoffs, represent a high risk for the human health and the natural environment, including coral reefs.

A fact that has caught international attention is the increasing pollution of oceans with plastic debris and micro plastics (IISD 2015; UNEP 2016). According to the United Nations Environmental Program - UNEP (2016), 4.8 - 12.7 million metric tons of plastic were disposed into our oceans in 2010. These materials, are transported by ocean currents across the globe harming wildlife, fisheries, and marine ecosystems. In the Caribbean, the main sources of pollution include:

  • Coastal tourism being a major source of litter, exacerbated by inappropriate waste management systems, and waste from the cruise ship sector;

  • Uncontrolled dumpsites. It is estimated that the Caribbean hosts five dump sites which represent a global environmental concern (UNEP 2016);

  • Loss of fishery traps. More than 20,000 fishery traps are lost per year in the Caribbean mainly in the hurricane season; and

  • Inefficient waste water treatment, considering that a large proportion of micro plastics pass through waste water treatment plants polluting seawater.

The solutions to this fact, are being explored by different local and international organizations mainly proposing some urgent short-term actions relevant to issues as improved wastewater and solid waste collection and management. However, there is an increasing need to recognize the importance of finding long-term options under a Circular Economy paradigm, with the objective to design out waste from products, and production and consumption patterns around the globe (IISD 2015; UNEP 2016; European Commission 2015).

Another important challenge in the region is the increasing freshwater shortages which result in a predicted shortage of primary potable water needs and other public health issues. As recommended by UNEP (2014), some short-term response options include reducing the degradation and loss of freshwater resources through technical measures, rainwater harvesting, and water reuse/recycling. Yet, there is also a need of moving towards a more circular economic model which can significantly contribute to achieving a better water stewardship in the region.

Within the Circular Economy (CE) framework, which is highly derived from the Cradle to Cradle® principles, water inputs are systematically addressed. Thus, a CE proposes to foster system effectiveness, by revealing and designing out negative externalities (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2013). It involves a careful design of products and processes avoiding to release harmful substances to the environment as well as to manage externalities such as water pollution. Furthermore, the Cradle to Cradle® philosophy invites to ‘…manage water use to maximize quality, promote healthy ecosystems, and respect local impacts’ (Webster 2016).

By focusing on plastic and non-biodegradable debris as one of the main pollutants of marine areas, some global initiatives framed within a Circular Economy vision are already being undertaken and lead to deployment of new business opportunities. For instance, the Circular Ocean Project is exploring the hiding opportunities of discarded fishing nets and ropes in the Northern Periphery and Arctic Region, and have identified so far the following business opportunities (CircularOcean 2016):

  • Remanufacturing: For example, in Chile, Bureo Shop with its project ‘Nets to Decks’ is producing skateboards and sunglasses from fibres recovered from recycled fishing nets.

  • Sharing Economy: some communities are sharing their fishing nets.

  • Reverse Logistics and Recycling: For example, the European initiative ‘Upcycling the Oceans’ developed by ECOALF in the Mediterranean who are cleaning the oceans and recycling the collected materials into pellets, thread fabric and products to be commercialized.

Moreover, a Circular Economy also plays an important role in guaranteeing freshwater supply in the region. The incorporation of CE principles into the design of the infrastructure for water production and management, waste management, and waste water sanitization systems, creates innovative opportunities for effective use-cycles of urban nutrients and materials (closing biological loops) while avoiding unwanted and toxic chemicals’ leakage into the environment.

As highlighted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2016) in its last report about CE opportunities in India, innovative integrative water-waste-sanitization systems are emerging and present great solutions for regions with limited space combined with high population densities. The case of Biopolus Technologies (See Box 1) highlights an appealing opportunity for the Caribbean to address freshwater scarcity, waste water, and other land-based sources of pollution of the coastal areas which is the backbone of the tourism industry the Caribbean is known for.

Case Study


Redesigning the urban metabolism encourages cities to invest in effective water management solutions that close water, food, nutrient, and energy loops while delivering social benefits. Biopolus offers an integrated network of water treatment facilities (metabolic hubs) in aesthetically appealing multi-functional buildings that can provide sanitation solutions for informal settlements, luxury residential communities, and industrial parks alike.

Each hub can serve 5,000 - 50,000+ people. The hubs use innovative Metabolic Network Reactor (MNR) technology, where individual reactor-cells work as high-speed and high-efficiency multi-core bio-processors, in a controlled, interconnected bio-engineered process to tailor water output for specific uses, including irrigation, industrial processes, and potable water.

The hubs occupy as much as 60% less land, save up to 35% on operating costs compared with traditional solutions, and can be installed with minimal disruption to local residents. The hubs can be designed in modules to provide functions of the community’s choosing, such as water reuse, energy or materials recovery, bathroom blocks, laundry facilities, and even food production.

Coupled with the Biopolus Aero, which is a green aeroponic food growth module that uses a unique method of production in a light-weight and mobile system, the hubs can support the provision of healthy, nutritious food where water is scarce, space limited, and the population large. The system uses an atomized nutrient solution to control nutrient content and minimize water use, producing plants with aerated root systems that are less susceptible to infection by pests and disease.

Source: (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016)

As an official member of the UN Sustainable Development Network, ASDF is committed to realize the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, the suggestions presented in this blog are directly linked to SDG 14 (Life below Water) and impact indirectly on SDG 3 (Good health and wellbeing). By implementing a better water stewardship in a Circular Island Economy it is possible to accomplish Targets 14.1 (prevent marine pollution from land-based activities), 14.2 (manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems), 14.7(increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States) and 3.9 (reduce number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and water pollution and contamination) (United Nations 2017).

As a founding member of the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas), ASDF is committed to engage with like-minded individuals and organizations to explore, identify, and realize innovative solutions inspired by the Circular Economy principles to address the contamination of the Caribbean Sea and other marine areas along the coast lines of nations in the Americas. For more information please visit:


CircularOcean, 2016. Circular Ocean: About. Available at: [Accessed January 7, 2017].

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016. Circular Economy in India: Rethinking growth for long-term prosperity., Available at:

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013. Towards the Circular Economy Vol. 1, Available at:

European Commission, 2015. Policy options for litter-free seas, CleanSea Project. Available at: results/CleanSea_Brochure_Final_0.pdf.

IISD, 2015. The Marine Plastic Waste and the Circular Economy Bulletin, Washington DC. Available at:

UNEP, 2014. Emerging Issues for Small Island Developing States: . Results of the UNEP Foresight Process., Nairobi, Kenya. Available at:

UNEP, 2016. Marine Plastic debris and microplastics- Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change, Nairobi.

United Nations, 2017. Sustainable Development Goals. Available at: [Accessed January 15, 2016].

Webster, K., 2016. The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows Second Edi. Ellen MacArthur, ed., Kindle Version: Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publishing.

© Copyright 2017 Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF). All Rights Reserved

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