Trash to Treasure
A handful of "industrial symbiosis" networks are starting to take hold in Canada. The idea behind them is that the output of one industrial plant becomes feedstock for another.
From the June-July 2015 issue, page 31
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has always been a fact of nature and is equally true today in our high-tech constructs. In its basic form, industrial symbiosis is a “trash to treasure” equation. But somewhere in a tangle of acronyms, public funding, environmental organizations and well-intentioned efforts, this essentially simple idea often seems to get buried.
Defined as “the establishment of mutually beneficial relationships between organizations to more effectively and efficiently manage resources,” industrial symbiosis was originally intended to create waste-to-feedstock linkages, thus moving industry to a circular economy. Collaborations have since been expanded to include energy, water and even services like transportation.
Just how complicated can it be to find a way to use byproducts (anything from plastics to energy) to create other products, rather than generating costly waste? It seems the answer is very different, depending on whom you ask.
The Centre de transfert technologique en ecologie industrielle (CTTEI) is a college centre of excellence that promotes industrial ecology under the name “Synergie Québec, in part by co-ordinating industrial, inorganic and mixed waste reclamation initiatives.
One of the Synergie-Québec industrial regions is the Brome-Missisquoi Centre local de developpement (CLD) in Cowansville. Oriana Familiar, the centre’s sustainable development advisor, says they have managed to inventory 145 items from 15 participating companies. More than 20 potential exchanges were identified, along with 40 more possible “synergies” with businesses outside the region.
There are many potential synergies involving organic waste from factory cafeterias or the agricultural sector, Familiar says. Packaging and chemical products are another area with lots of potential.
Implementing the 20 exchanges identified in this first phase involves working on the technical, legal and logistical aspects. “We would like to achieve at least half of the 20 this year,” Familiar says. “We will be calculating the impact of the exchanges as they are implemented.”
Funding for the second (implementation) phase is dependent on a positive response from the participating municipal governments, businesses and the CLD, and has yet to be secured.
In Quebec City, a company headed by Frédéric Bouchard, ing. is one of Synergie Québec’s main competitors. A major difference is their funding. “Second Cycle has a business model that doesn’t require public dollars,” Bouchard says, although he acknowledges that the company started up using a government grant.
He describes Second Cycle as a mixture of consulting and brokerage, with a huge network in Quebec. It facilitates waste exchange by offering a website and counselling services, lab analyses and logistics. “We provide the technology, they [clients] use the web site to facilitate exchanges.”
One such exchange is the re-use of scrap plastic for new plastic products. Second Cycle sends samples to the plastic plant that is looking for raw material; if the scrap (which would otherwise be waste material) can be used, Second Cycle arranges for pick-up and transfer to the factory.
“Many brokers try to sell scrap in Asia and China. We try to close the loop locally: we need to find our own way to re-use, not to ship [waste] somewhere the legislation is more lax.”
Bouchard believes there is a common misconception that an industrial zone can be a closed loop in itself, but says this is actually very difficult to achieve. “Waste generators and receivers don’t match up [because the pool is too small].” Province-wide networks function well, and while region-wide can also work, he says “the volume is very small – a pallet versus a truckload.”
Partners in Project Green: A Pearson Eco-Business Zone
Second Cycle’s reach now extends to Ontario, where the company works with Partners in Project Green: A Pearson Eco-Business Zone. Partners in Project Green was originally created to service the 12,000 hectares of industrial lands at Pearson International in Mississauga, but the network now extends into municipalities beyond. It works with leading companies to promote the adoption of sustainable business practices, with its major focus on four areas: energy, water, waste and engagement.
Formerly part of the Synergie Québec project, Project Green is now using Second Cycle’s exchange platform which, according to Bouchard, offers a network that is 20 times larger.
Synergies underway include shipping leftover bamboo (pandas at the Metro Toronto Zoo eat only 20 per cent or less of what they’re fed) to a farm where it is used to control soil erosion. Another program involves retrofitting and distributing Coca-Cola’s concentrated beverage drums as rain barrels to promote urban community rainwater recovery.
Project Green is in the process of launching Second Cycle’s online exchange for companies to post information about their waste products. “[Use of] the platform is free, and our staff will facilitate the exchanges,” says Malaz Sebai, Project Green’s project manager for waste management.
Partners in Project Green is funded by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). When it started in 2008, the organization had one full-time and one half-time TRCA employee; it now has a staff of 12 and a growing mandate. “We’re incorporating minimal program fees to meet a goal of being 20 per cent self-sustaining,” Sebai says.
National Industrial Symbiosis Program
The gold standard for industrial symbiosis has to be Industrial Synergies’ National Industrial Symbiosis Program. Peter Laybourn, a British consultant, created NISP in 2002.
“Industrial symbiosis is a systems approach to a more sustainable and integrated industrial economy that identifies business opportunities to improve resource utilization: materials, energy, water, capacity, expertise, assets etc.,” Laybourn explained in a videotaped seminar in Vancouver in 2012. “[It involves] innovation and culture changes, but it’s achieved through profitable business enterprises. A ‘synergy’ is in a way just a business transaction, but typically it benefits more than one party and the environment as well.”
As opposed to a six-month process resulting in 20 to 60 potential synergies, NISP puts 50 people in a room for a half-day session and nets 300 potential synergies (a record was set in Mexico, where a session resulted in 600 synergies).
The proprietary platform has been adapted for use in 20 other countries. NISP-Canada was launched last March at GLOBE 2014, and is now seeking funding for its Metro Vancouver pilot program.
“We are pulling together the investments to launch NISP-Canada,” says Tracy Casavant, P.Eng., executive director of Light House Sustainable Building Centre Society, the Vancouver-based non-profit leading the NISP program in Canada. “Our goal is to secure a mix of government and private investment, with the majority of funding from the various levels of government. We have applied to Western Economic Diversification for approximately 40 per cent of the funding, and are seeking other funding commitments.”
The figures indicating NISP’s success are, if anything, under-represented, Laybourn says in the video. “It’s interesting what happens when you do a value for money, because if we achieved that (39 million tonnes of CO2 reductions, 10,000 jobs created, 1.2 billion Euros in cost savings, over five years), but spent a fortune in getting there, it’s not so good. But we’re spending cents (73 Euro cents) on reducing carbon by a tonne. So it’s a very cost-efficient way of reducing things like landfill and carbon … and it’s got a benefit:cost ratio that’s basically off the scale for a government-type investment.”
Given these numbers, here’s another common phrase to apply to the state of industrial symbiosis in Canada: “What’s the hold-up?” cce
Sophie Kneisel is a freelance writer based in Baltimore, Ontario, and a former editor of Canadian Consulting Engineer.