Urban metabolism and resource recovery


Urban metabolism describes the process of resources flowing through, being transformed, and being consumed in an urban entity. Understanding urban metabolism can guide more efficient resource use and reduce environmental impacts.

Urban water metabolism analyses the trajectories and magnitudes of water flows, plus the energy and nutrients that are created in the process of treating or pumping water.

Resource recovery involves removing and separating materials from a waste stream and using them productively. Circular economies have fewer resources going in and less waste going out, and offer an alternative to the traditional linear pattern of consuming and disposing resources.

Research findings and reports

Our research on urban metabolism and resource recovery has identified some interesting findings, for example:

You will find a range of research reports on urban metabolism and resource recovery under the categories below.

Urban water metabolism

Resource recovery

The CRCWSC’s urban metabolism and resource recovery research has been applied to:

  • The Ideas for the Subiaco Strategic Resource Precinct explores the 'buffertopia' concept – an innovative way to manage the wastewater treatment plants and the buffer zones that surround them. The vision is for the Subiaco Strategic Resource Precinct is for a concentration of technology companies and researchers working on new approaches to wastewater treatment and the buffer zone around it.
  • A proposal to recover water, nutrients and biogas from organic waste from food and gardens in Ideas for South Bank
  • An opportunity to use sewage and surplus stormwater runoff as a resource for affordable local reuse in Ideas for Ripley Valley
  • A proposal to harvest and treat greywater for use as a potable water source to minimise reliance on central potable water supplies and concentrate the sewerage waste stream discharged to a local resource recovery plan in Ideas for Fishermans Bend
  • An opportunity to use purple phototrophic bacteria to assimilate nutrients from wastewater to be used as a fertiliser or to recover energy and nutrients in Ideas for Tonsley

Tools and guidelines

  • We have developed industry guidance informed by our urban metabolism and resource recovery research, for example:


Infographic 1

Urban water metabolism evaluation framework (Meng X and Kenway S, 2018.  Analysing water sensitive urban design optionsWater e-journal, 3(4).

Infographic 2

Urban metabolism, urban water metabolism, water mass balance – differentiation of concepts (Renouf et al. 2017.  Urban metabolism for planning water sensitive city-regions. Proof of concept for an urban water metabolism evaluation framework.  Melbourne, Australia: CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, p. 13.)

Infographic 3

Urban water mass balance – “urban system” components, boundary and water flows (Renouf et al., 2020. Water sensitive outcomes for infill development: Infill Performance Evaluation Framework. Melbourne, Australia: CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, p. 42.)