What if the waste of one business could be a resource for another? Known as ‘industrial ecology’ or ‘industrial symbiosis’, networks are being set up to facilitate the exchange of one company’s waste so it becomes the input for another’s business.
Put simply, industrial ecology is where one company’s trash becomes another’s treasure. It focuses on the sustainable combination of business, environment, and technology, while the subset, industrial symbiosis, focuses on material and energy exchange. It’s a circular economy based system in which waste is reused in new processes and is a closed loop process, whereas in liner systems waste would just be disposed of.
The Benefits to Business
As the cost of waste disposal increases it becomes less cost-effective to send material to landfill. To be seen as efficient and socially responsible, businesses need to consider the end-of-pipe impacts of their activities. In addition to reducing the demands on the earth’s resources, industrial ecology has benefits to business. This includes:
- Reduced operating costs
- New business opportunities and jobs
- Improved technical processes
- Improved awareness of waste streams
Looking for examples of industrial ecology in action? The NSW EPA have developed a number of case studies about the positive outcomes for organisations involved in the industrial ecology network.
Devro Pty Ltd - Simple Solutions for Food Waste (698kb pdf file)
DEXUS, Lend Lease & The GPT Group - Governor Macquarie Tower Defit (350kb pdf file)
Lismore Workers Club - Sustainable Waste Initiative (255kb pdf file)
Mission Australia - Mattress Recycling (264kb pdf file)
REMONDIS - Wood & Plastic Pallet Recycling (363kb pdf file)
There are also case studies of organisations who have engaged through the ASPIRE program.
Where Can Businesses Start?
Industrial ecology is in its early days in Australia. To function effectively industrial ecology needs collaboration between governments, academia and the private sector. A number of networks, forums and tools have been developed to facilitate this collaboration.
New South Wales - Circulate, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Industrial Ecology
Circulate, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Industrial Ecology is assisting businesses to achieve competitiveness and improved bottom lines through better environmental practices.
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment funds Industrial Ecology facilitators to work with organisations in NSW to help them identify and implement projects that will reduce waste or provide them with resources to create new material.
The CSIRO has built an online tool that identifies potential business-to-business resource exchanges. ASPIRE is an online marketplace which intelligently matches businesses with potential purchasers or recyclers of waste by-products. It is run by the CSIRO in collaboration with local councils and business networks.
The Australian Industrial Ecology Network is a company established to offer a forum in which members can seek advice, discuss ideas, canvas issues of interest and connect with resources associated with the practice and study of industrial ecology. It is a network of individuals, companies and institutions with a common interest in sustainable development through the study and practice of industrial ecology.