Nov 13, 2013
THEME: Sustainability

The Resource Infinity Loop: Proactive Steps for Urban Ecosystems

City dwellers tend to think of the urban ecosystem as one comprising non-human species like plants, trees, birds and animals. We believe that by nurturing these external elements, we can heal the alarming health issues of our urban environment, including water scarcity, food insecurity, and social inequity. However, this solution is incomplete: humans are the predominant species in the urban world and as such are the critical link in repairing the damaged urban ecosystem. To find regenerative solutions for our cities, we need to allow ourselves to step into the urban ecosystem and take our place in nature’s cycle. Humans need not simply depend on an ecosystem’s tendency to equilibrium for its continued existence, we can take proactive steps in being a force for renewal. 

The Resource Infinity Loop (click to enlarge)

The Resource Infinity Loop is a way to tackle the role humans play in our current overly-mechanized urban settings. Using urban wastewater as a renewable and reliable resource for urban farming closes the water and nutrient loop within the urban environment. Largely unexploited in the more developed economies—but used to great advantage in some parts of the world—this Resource Loop plugs in humans as an integral part of the ecosystem by capturing and directing nutrients in human waste for urban farming, thus constantly renewing the food and energy resources being consumed. The ‘used’ water (‘wastewater’ truly is a misnomer) generated in our ever-burgeoning cities contains vital nutrients like phosphates and nitrates that are essential for farming that are normally applied as chemicals in conventional agricultural practices. Used water is the inexpensive, organic resource for the nutrients and water that can help address urban ailments.

With just 1% the earth’s water being fresh and available to share between all living beings (and 70% of this fresh water needed primarily for food production), both fresh water and food are an increasingly scarce commodity in urban communities—leading to many health issues specific to the urban population. Moreover, infrastructure associated with urban hydrology is crumbling. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent report “The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy,” an investment of an additional $84 Billion between now and 2020 is needed, mainly in 3 areas:

  • Treatment Plants – Upgrading and replacing old plants.
  • Pipes – The EPA reports that 60% of drinking water needs and 28% of wastewater needs are pipe-related. 51% of wastewater pipe-related needs are repairs.
  • Wet Weather management – The EPA reports that 772 cities are working to prevent untreated sewage from entering waterways when sewer systems are overloaded.

This is a big investment—but it is also an immense opportunity for a visionary solution to water infrastructure that simultaneously addresses issues of food security, social equity, and green economy in our urban communities. The Resource Infinity Loop reclaims used water locally through ecologically-advanced treatment processes and reuses it in food production: constructed wetlands, aquaculture ponds and urban farms successfully create decentralized resource-recovery ecosystems within the city, as an alternative to existing centralized mechanical systems.

The Resource Infinity Loop is a cost-effective, low-energy, low-maintenance, resilient approach to the usual expensive, energy-intensive, centralized infrastructure for water, food and energy needs, and has the notable capacity to self-renew in the wake of disruptions. We can redefine the fundamental ways in which we plan, design, and build our cities by allowing the infinite resource loop of used water to feed our cities.

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