Industrial ecosystems, designed 'from scratch' to imitate nature by utilizing the waste products of each component firm as raw materials (or 'food') for another, are an attractive theoretical idea, but as yet mostly at the proposal stage. It is important to stress that process changes to take advantage of returns to closing the materials cycle are very definitely not another version of 'end-of-pipe' treatment of wastes. Is this an idea whose time has come?
This chapter examines a number of such proposals and considers the prerequisites for success. It appears that there are several. First, a fairly large scale of operation is required. This means that at least one first-tier exporter must be present to achieve the necessary scale. Second, at least one other major firm (or industrial sector) must be present locally to utilize the major waste of the exporter, after conversion to useful form. Third, one or more specialized 'satellite' firms will be required to convert the wastes of the first-tier exporter into useful raw materials for the consumer, and to convert the latter's wastes into marketable commodities, secondary inputs to other local firms, or final wastes for disposal. A final condition, of great importance (and difficult to achieve in practice) is that a reliable mechanism be established to ensure close and long-term cooperation - that is, information sharing - at the technical level among the participating firms. The guarantor of this cooperation must be either the first-tier exporter itself, a major bank, a major marketing organization or a public agency. The detailed mechanisms by which it can be achieved in practice remain to be worked out.
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