To promote the practice of Industrial Ecology in Australia, City West Water and Waste Management Association of Australia organized, on Thursday the 10th of November, the workshop from “Trash to Treasure” which I was very lucky to attend. I will like to share some of the concepts and projects that I was introduced to. It gave me the value of the Industrial perspective of Recycling, all very new to me, from my artist way of addressing this issue. In Sustainable business practices, all resources must be Reused, is not an option not to do so. But is this enough? Can we Recycle our way into Sustainability?
We were introduced to the concept of Industrial Ecology:
“ Industrial Ecology promotes enhanced sustainability by stimulating innovations in the reuse of waste materials. The wastes or by-products of one industry are used as inputs in another industry, there by closing the material loop of industrial systems and minimizing waste.” –Australasian Ecology website
WMAA is an association representing more than 3,000 individuals in the waste and resource recovery industry of Australia. One of their projects is working to emulate a very successful program launched in the UK, The National Industrial Symbiosis Program. Part of their strategy is organizing workshops like this one to share case studies and promote networking between the different industries. They hold the Australasian Industrial Ecology Conference once a year and also build a national database of the Industry to facilitate the sharing of the resources.
After the overview of this innovative project we were honored to hear Thomas E. Graedel, Professor of Industrial Ecology, Environmental Engineering & Geology & Geophysics from Yale University. The title of his presentation “Can we Recycle our way into Sustainability?”
He spoke of the many different challenges that currently apply to recovering mineral resources. Some minerals are buried under the ocean and the concrete of our cities; others are in a “comatose” state in homes of individuals. There is lack of proper collection, limited recycling technologies available, inadequate sorting of materials, etc. He later shared with us stats on how good are the current recycling rate of mineral resources. In the best of scenarios: Maybe 50% of materials might get collected initially, of that, 70% may be successfully separated, 80% sorted, 95% of that will go back into production, that leaves a total of 29% of actual Reuse. It is shocking considering all the energy, effort and destruction of natural habitats that we put into mining for these resources!
To answer his initial questions whether recycling could leads us to sustainability, he showed us a graph with the World Consumption Rate and the Recycling Rate. Even if we were to achieve a 100% Recycling rate, our Consumption Rate would always be higher. So the Answer is NO, Recyling alone will not make our world sustainable. It will help us save energy, minimize environmental impact and preserve resources in the long term, but we must also REDUCE our consumption if we are to reach true Sustainability!
Our next presenter came to share a very successful case study of Industrial Ecology. The Boward Region Recycling Expanded Polystyrene project.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is a mayor source of packaging material used in many Industries around Australia. EPS created a huge problem for the landfills of this region due to the fact that it is so lightweight but extremely bulky and space consuming. This is very unprofitable for landfills that charges by weight. The city waste management started a program that has effectively collected, process and reused 1200 cubic meters of Polystyrene the equivalent of approx. 10,000 household waste bins full diverted from landfills! They won the 2010 National Innovation in Sustainability Award with this incredible project! For more on recycling Polyystyrene visit www.repsa.org.au
The last part of the workshop was an impressive opportunity to network, with a twist. The 30 participants who came from a diverse range of Industries where separated into 4 groups in a café style of interaction, we had two leaflets to fill out.
On page (I have) you state the discards of your particular industry and in the other leaflet (I want) you wrote what sort of resources you need.
After each person completed these two papers, they were handed over to the neighboring table, then they were read out loud by a moderator. This gave all the participants the opportunity to hear the diversity of discards available within the group. If someone was interested in any particular resource they would write their name on the page for a later contact with that delegate. WMAA also kept this information for the national database of resources they are building. It was an amazing way of matching resources needed and discarded by different Industries. I think this is an excellent process that can be applied to many fields with remarkable results for sharing information, collaborating and making important connections between people.
I am very grateful to the organizations that made this workshop possible and both the content and process were excellent! It was a great opportunity to gain valuable knowledge on the crucial issue of Recycling our mineral resources, on the path towards building a Sustainable Future!