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A Handbook of Industrial Ecology

Edited by Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W. Ayres

Industrial ecology is coming of age and this superb book brings together leading scholars to present a state-of-the-art overviews of the subject. Each part of the book comprehensively covers the following issues in a systematic style: the goals and achievements of industrial ecology and the history of the field; methodology, covering the main approaches to analysis and assessment; economics and industrial ecology; industrial ecology at the national/regional level; industrial ecology at the sectoral/materials level; and applications and policy implications.
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Chapter 5: On Industrial ecosystems

Robert U. Ayres


Robert U. Ayres* 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...

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