Considering industrial waste is an unlikely beginning for the typical company seeking innovative ways to become sustainable. Usually, waste is seen only as an output, not an input, but it’s time for a paradigm shift. For the past century, waste was produced with reckless abandon. Considerations such as decomposition, landfill management, and contamination were fleeting thoughts at best while landfills were being designated and filled.
Not only has previous policy left the U.S. with an abundance of brownfield sites, it has also designated industrial waste products as completely unusable. However, modernization of recycling technology, and a reassessment of manufacturing processes, suggests industrial waste may become riches rather than rubbish.
Why It’s Necessary
The EPA estimates there are 10,000 abandoned commercial, private, and municipal dumps in the United States. With the concentration of industrial uses near major cities, and the increasing trend of urbanization, it is only logical to conclude these contaminated sites will eventually impede development. After all, it’s not as though we can make new land, Dubai excluded. Landfills and brownfields, although often ignored in planning discussions, are the most wasteful, and restrictive, land use options.
While “out of sight, out of mind” is clearly the common thought on landfills, they do still exist and dumping still occurs on a routine basis. The discussion on landfill mitigation is largely focused on municipal landfills that are under regulation of the government, while industrial landfills continue to be created and mostly ignored. However, the waste in industrial landfills has strong potential to be reused for environmental and economical gain, dramatically reducing the final amount of waste produced and dumped.
Waste to Profit Movement
Urban recycling is a growing trend among the industrial sectors of a variety of cities. Given the positive effect on economic and environmental budgets, common sense suggests the trend will quickly transform into widespread best practice. To begin the process, a Waste to Profit Network is developed, either by the industrial group or an outside consulting firm. The Network, composed of the participating industries, forms agreements concerning waste pretreatment, transportation, and logistics of waste management between facilities.
As the agreement is drafted, legal considerations such as intellectual property, confidentiality, and liability are determined. Finally, as the plan is implemented, further synergies are considered with additional companies, expanding the Network. Currently, waste to profit networks have been implemented in a number of cities with positive results.
Chicago is the proud location of one of the largest waste to profit networks to date. Formed by a partnership with the Chicago Manufacturing Center and Chicago’s Department of Environment, approximately 150 local manufacturers comprise the network. As of 2007, the Network had saved over $4,000,000 in cost reduction as well as diverting 22,118 tons of landfill waste.
In the United Kingdom, the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) operates throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland, and serves as a strong example for many American networks. Operating since 2005, the organization has so far saved 35 million tons of landfill waste, and reduced carbon emissions by £780,000,000.
The potential of waste to profit programs is endless, with industrial and manufacturing bases only being the tip of the iceberg. Novel processes include the reuse of poultry waste as fertilizer, airline seat fabric remade into shoes, and recovered metal from electronic components being cast as jewelry. Although industrial waste presents enormous challenges for remediation, and dumping continues to be an ongoing challenge, the blight that is industrial waste may well prove to be an environmental and economical solution to the continuing problems of product generation and supply.
Emily McClendon is an environmental marketing specialist currently working at NeboWeb. She has a B.S. in Applied Biology from Georgia Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing her M.C.R.P. in Environmental Planning, also at Georgia Institute of Technology. She believes that communication and shared knowledge are the most important facets of conveying environmentally friendly practices. After participating in biological research, inter disciplinary planning, and interactive marketing, she is convinced a comprehensive approach is the only solution for creating a sustainable economy.