Indirect Effects and Industrial Ecology

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This article would be incomplete without mentioning of studies and methods used in 'industrial ecology'. Industrial ecology is based on the analogy between natural and industrial ecosystems, and aims to facilitate the development of industrial recycling and cascading cooperative systems by minimizing the energy consumption, generation of wastes, emissions, and input of raw materials. Complex interplay among system components has been taken into account in a large number of waste management and industrial ecology studies. Consequently, throughout the second half of the last and the beginning of the present century, some substantial progress has been made in various aspects of industrial ecology, and in particular in understanding and accounting for indirect effects.

One of the commonly used methods of industrial ecology is 'life cycle assessment' (LCA). It studies the environmental aspects and potential impacts throughout a product's life (commonly referred to as cradle to grave approach), from raw material acquisition through production, use, and disposal, and the same methodological framework allows analysis of the impacts associated with physical products (e.g., cars, trains, electronic equipment), and services such as waste management and energy systems. Similar to LCA, but usually with considerably narrower system boundaries, are methods of energy analysis, including, for example, energy footprinting (which, effectively, constitutes calculations of how much energy is spent and saved/recovered in all the processes included within the chosen system boundary) and net energy analysis (which in addition to the detailed energy budgeting involves calculation ofindicators such as incremental energy ratio and absolute energy ratio). For example, on the basis of the energy budget estimates for case studies from the UK and Switzerland it has been argued that increasing recycling rates for plastic and glass would improve the energy budget of waste management programmes, and, therefore, benefit the corresponding industrial ecosystems. Further modifications of the energy analysis methods make fruitful use of emergy and exergy budgets.

Another method popular in 'industrial ecology' is 'ecological footprinting'. Basically, the method estimates the area necessary to support (i.e., in terms of, for example, production of food, energy, processing of wastes) current, past, or probable future functioning of particular geographical (often administrative, for example, countries, counties, towns) units. Despite numerous logistical problems of interconversions, system boundary definitions, and coefficient estimates, application of this method is very useful and illustrative. For example (as illustrated by Herendeen), out of all Western industrialized countries, only the ecofootprints of Australia and Canada appear to fit inside their borders (the rest of the 'developed' countries appear to live on the expense of other territories).

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