NAWAMED: potential for nature-based solutions in circular economy, resource-oriented, and ecosystem services approaches


Fabio Masi and Anacleto Rizzo of IRIDRA s.r.l., technical partner of the NAWAMED project, with Martin Regelsberger of the Austrian Technisches Büro Regelsberger, have recently published an article in the “Journal of Environmental Management” on the role of Nature-Based Solutions, specifically of constructed wetlands, to provide and sustain ecosystem services.

The choice of the adopted technologies is strictly linked to environmental performances and economical aspects; one of the possible causes for the still enormous amount of untreated wastewater discharged into the environment can be the low “willingness to pay” for this kind of service and therefore a great focus should be given to all the technologies that are able to lower the treatment costs still maintaining reliable and robust performances in the long term

The three authors picture the “Current common scheme of water management in urban settlements” (Figure 1) and what they refer as the “Advisable scheme of sustainable water management in an urban settlement where nature-based systems are diffusely integrated” (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Current common scheme of water management in an urban settlement

Figure 2. Advisable scheme of sustainable water management in an urban settlement where nature-based systems are diffusely integrated

Wastewater management is included in one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 6 is dedicated to water and sanitation and sets out to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. SDG 6 expands the Millennium Development Goals focus on drinking water and basic sanitation to now cover the entire water cycle, including the management of water, wastewater and ecosystem resources. A UN report in 2017 states that likely over 80% of the wastewater worldwide is still discharged without adequate treatment. In several countries the wastewater management is nowadays a norm, but still there are open discussions about the kind of approach to be adopted, i.e. centralisation vs. decentralisation.

While today the main target of sanitation is the safe evacuation of used or undesired waters and their least harmful possible reintroduction into the aquatic environment, in the future there will be multiple targets depending on local conditions and priorities.

The article makes clear what it means: “The diversity of tasks will best be achieved by a diversity of systems, i.e. diversity of targets, scale, technology and combination with other systems respectively sectors in a systemic approach to problem solving, integrated into a comprehensive urban trans-sectorial substance flow management. […] Some of the targets could be water saving, maximising water reuse, rainwater retention, the most complete reuse possible of all involved substances, maximising crop production, the reduction of non-renewable energy usage and mitigating urban heat island effects”.

When considering wastewater as a carrier of valuable primary chemicals that can be easily converted to marketable products (fertilisers, bio-plastics, soil conditioners, biofuels, etc.), and as well as a relevant source of “new water” to be used for specific purposes, wastewater and runoff management can be highlighted as one of the most exciting challenges and occasions for a sustainable development in the near future

Learn more about the NAWAMED project.