Going Circular
How Restoring a River Ecosystem in Chile’s Capital City has Benefited Human Health and Economics

Executive Summary

The Mapocho River running through Santiago, Chile’s capital city, were taking a toll on the city’s water resources. Outbreaks of typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis A were common as Santiago residents consumed crops irrigated by river water teeming with household waste. In 1999, less than 3% of Santiago’s wastewater was treated. That year, Chile privatized its water resources in order to increase the capacity and efficiency of wastewater management. The bid for Santiago’s water services went to Aguas Andinas, now Chile’s largest water utility company.

Twenty years later, the Mapocho is unrecognizable. Between 2000 and 2015, Aguas Andinas increased wastewater treatment to 100%, a change that has contributed to improved health outcomes for the city’s residents, a revival of the river’s aquatic plant and animal species, and the creation of new green spaces. In 2017, the company also adopted a circular economy approach in its operations. This approach is characterized by its cyclical reuse of resources and byproducts that may otherwise have gone to waste.

By turning its two largest wastewater treatment plants into “biofactories,” Aguas Andinas has increased its energy self-sufficiency and created a valuable suite of products from treated sewage that would have previously been sent to landfill—all while demonstrating that a circular economy model is better for the company’s bottom line and for climate change resilience.

This case study is based on interviews conducted in Santiago, Chile, in May and June 2019.

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This case study was written by Hilary Duff

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