What are the corrective measures we can take that will start to eliminate the entire concept waste? This leads to the need for material efficiency (ME).

System Analysis

We start with system analysis: Cradle to Grave (CG). CG was a way of examining every process in the production cycle. From this examination teams could eliminate, substitute, make simpler processes and the waste starts to disappear.

An even better system approach is Cradle to Cradle: here you design out any waste from the beginning. For instance, you design out any toxins that are part of the manufacturing process of nylon carpets. Then you design a way of caputuring the old carpets into new carpets using little energy in the conversion and the energy comes for renewables. Interface is the largest carpet company in the world and it has done all these things and more. It has claimed to be the first sustainable carpet company in the world.

Material Efficiency (ME)

German scientist, Schmidt-Bleek, and his researchers have come up with a measurement for material efficiency. For instance, the gold ring around your finger weighs three tonnes, not to mention all the cyanide used in separating the gold from the rock. The three thousand million tonnes of coal that we burn yearly turns out to weight 15 thousand million tonnes of tailings and water from mining, not to mention the 10 thousand million tonnes of CO2 we release into the atmosphere. Take something as benign as orange juice: depending on what country it was made and consumed in, it can cause soil and water movement of more than 100 kg. This is the hidden side of the solid waste.

By improving on material efficiency, we reduce our carbon foot print and toxic and hazardous materials. Well, we could and enlightened companies do! Amory Lovins, the efficiency guru, has documents on how some enlightened (and profitable – for the two go hand in hand) companies are coming up with a factor four and a factor ten efficiency. In the first you double your wealth/production, while halving your resource use (so it takes half the materials to produce double the amount of goods and services ). In the later you only use 10% of the materials you now use to produce 100% of the goods and services. There are companies that are doing this while eliminating all their toxic and hazardous materials.

A sub category of ME could be Eco Industrial Parks: These work by matching the different companies within the park so the waste from one is the input for another. One of the first parks was at Kalunborg in Denmark. This Eco Industrial Park is made up over 20 companies. There is a coal fired power station, it produces heat for Kalunborg (4,500 pop); a pharmaceutical plant Novo Nordisk; an enzyme producer Novozymes which produces a yeast slurry from the steam from a oil refinery; the slurry is fed to 800,000 pigs. There is a fish farm which has high yields due to the warm water. There are a number of farms nearby that use the nutrient laden water (fish excreta) as well as the pharmaceutical process (Novozymes) for fertilizers. The oil refinery desulphurisation plant creates 20,000 t/year of a liquid fertilizer. The fly ash from the power plant is used by a cement company (30,000 t/year). The Power Station produces about 200,000t/year of gypsum (a by-product). A plasterboard company produces plasterboard for the construction industry. This symbiotic relationship exchanges 2.9 million tons of materials each year. Water consumption has fallen by 25% and the power station has reduced its water consumption by 60%. All the partners benefit financially. Companies no longer have to pay for the dump. Other benefits include sharing of personnel, equipment and information.

There is a region, Styria, Austria, (pop 1.2 million) which has a similar but much larger arrangement between 500 companies (with over 10,000 employees). These companies exchange millions of tons of materials each year.

Biomimicry

This is the emerging cutting edge science that seeks innovation inspired by nature. It acknowledges that nature creates, uses only renewable energy, creates no waste, produces at ambient temperature, self assembles, and its research tries to mimic nature. As one example, nylon rope is strong, durable, needs high heat, via fossil fuels, and produces lots of toxic and hazardous materials via chemical interaction. The strongest fiber in the world pound for pound is spider silk/web. Yet this material is produced at room temperature, creates no toxins, is produced by enzymes in the stomach of the spider. (Read Biomimicry by Janine Benyus).

Resources

  • Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature. J.M Benyus. (1997) Happer Parennial, NYC, NY.
    (This brilliant book was also made into a 2h TV series “The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki).
  • Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution. P Hawken, A Lovins, H. Lovins. (2000), Earthscan Pub, London UK.
  • Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use. E. von Weizsacker, A. Lovins, H. Lovins. (1998) Earthscan Pub, London UK.
  • Cradle to Cradle. W. McDonough and M. Braungart. (2002) North Point Press, NYC, NY.
  • A discussion on Eco-Industrial Parks (Adobe PDF format)