Bilateral Industrial Symbiosis: An assessment of its potential in New south Wales to deal sustainably with manufacturing waste

Manufacturing takes place in NSW on sites that are dispersed throughout the state. They may be isolated, remote from one another and hence from likely users of their waste. This scenario is not conducive to industrial symbiosis which is conventionally understood to be a network of organisations in close geographic proximity that share resources, cascade energy and use each others waste. Regulations governing the disposal of waste are stringent and associated costs are significant, largely due to the highest landfill levies anywhere in Australia. The state government’s strategy is to increase levies to a level that ‘induces’ generators of waste to find alternatives to landfill. Responding to these challenges will necessitate a fundamental change in the approach to dealing with waste. The way in which manufactures might accomplish the change sustainably and systematically is the underlying issue addressed in this thesis. The concept of physical bilateral symbiosis, specifically an arrangement between a generator of waste and its user, has been developed to suit geographic conditions in NSW. However, an attempt to establish trials of its autogenous form was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, results of the attempt indicated that broader issues should be investigated: managers’ perceptions of waste disposal, their willingness and their capacity to meet the challenges imposed by government; collectively, what I have called a generator’s internal infrastructure. These issues, in turn, led to an investigation of how third parties, that is, the external infrastructure, might be able to facilitate bilateral symbiosis. The principal findings are that while some generators may develop uses for their waste others will simply not be able to do so. There is, in practice, no external infrastructure capable of facilitating systematic, bilateral symbiosis on behalf of a generator. Furthermore, government action, particularly in relation to policy on funding, is neither appropriate nor adequate for sustainable development in relation to waste. The overall conclusion is that much could be done by the private sector to increase the use of waste, if government policy were to support the effort. However, that support is expected to be very difficult to achieve, even in the form of appropriate legislation in NSW, let alone co-ordinated among the various jurisdictions in Australia. In regard to what actually happens in practice, the current scenario in general is unlikely to change significantly within the foreseeable future.

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Industrial Symbiosis and Eco-industrial Development

Author Robin Branson
Institution Sudney University, Australia; School of Geosciences
Advisor Dr Phil McManus; Professor of Urban and Environmental Geography
Degree Doctoral
Expected graduation 2011