Gobar Times
Open Forum

Industrial Ecology

    Closing the loop   

Instead of dumping styrofoam packing material and plastic forks in landfill sites what about creating cutlery from potatoes and use sea-algae as packing foam?

Robert A. Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos in an article titled ‘Strategies for Manufacturing’ in Scientific American in 1989 wrote:"Why would not our industrial system behave like an ecosystem, where the wastes of a species may be resource to another species? Why would not the outputs of an industry be the inputs of another, thus reducing use of raw materials, pollution, and saving on waste treatment?". Industrial Ecology is essentially the science of sustainability. It is a new and exciting area of work across the world.

    Industrial Ecology: The Concept    

This excerpt from Industrial Ecology (Graedel and Allenby, Prentice Hall, 1994), a highly recommended work explains how Industrial Ecology is essentially the science of sustainability." ‘No firm exists in a vacuum. Every industrial activity is linked to thousands of other transactions and activities and to their environmental impacts. A large firm manufacturing high-technology / low material products will have tens of thousands of suppliers located all around the world and changing on a daily basis.

It may manufacture and offer for sale hundreds of thousands of individual products to a myriad of customers, each with her or his own needs and cultural characteristics. Each customer, in turn, may treat the product very differently, a consideration when use and maintenance of the product may be a source of potential environmental impact (e.g. used oil from automobiles). When finally disposed of, the product may end up in almost any country, in a high-technology landfill, an incinerator, beside a road, or in a river that supplies drinking water to local populations."

"Industrial Ecology is the means by which humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain a desirable carrying capacity, given continued economic, cultural and technological evolution. The concept requires that an industrial system be viewed not in isolation from its surrounding systems, but in concert with them."

Waste from one industrial process
can serve as the raw materials for
another, thereby reducing the impact
of industry on the environment

"One of the most important concepts of industrial ecology is that, like the biological system, it rejects the concept of waste. Dictionaries define waste as useless or worthless material. In nature, however, nothing is eternally discarded; in various ways, all materials are reused, generally with great efficiency. Nature has adopted this approach because acquiring these materials from their reservoirs is costly in terms of energy and resources, and thus something to be avoided whenever possible.

In our industrial world, discarding materials wrestled from the Earth System at great cost is also generally unwise. Hence, materials and products that are obsolete should be termed residues rather than wastes, and it should be recognised that wastes are merely residues that our economy has not yet learned to use efficiently.”

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Industrial Ecology