Applying circular economy thinking to industry by integrating education and research activities

Ian D. Williams, Keiron Roberts, Peter J. Shaw, Barry Cleasby

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Collaboration between universities and external organisations offers opportunities for multiple and mutual benefits, including the development of employability skills in students. This paper outlines the educational approach taken and results achieved when under- and post-graduate students were tasked with working with a water supply and waste water treatment company (Southern Water; SW) with the aim of identifying opportunities to apply circular economy thinking to SW’s operations at a waste water treatment plant (WWTP) in England. The students were presented with a “real-world” consultancy task to identify and evaluate the waste streams within the WWTP process and produce options for their reduction, recovery and reuse without hindering operational effectiveness. The mutual benefits of this collaborative venture were demonstrated via: i) the utility of students’ recommendations and SW’s desire to participate in and fund follow-up activities, including academic consultancy, MSc and PhD projects; ii) positive feedback from SW and the students; and iii) the quality of the exercise as a vehicle for academic learning and development of professional and employability skills. Academics can address the challenge of simultaneously needing to develop students’ employability skills whilst covering core topics required by professional bodies by deliberately incorporating open-ended, real-world industrial activities into teaching and learning activities within assessed modules. Active learning approaches to education in waste and resource management incorporating consultancy-style work of this nature are strongly recommended.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-143
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2018


  • waste management
  • circular economy
  • employability
  • wastewater
  • education
  • students


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