Waste resource recovery: discarding the throw-away mentality

Ray Côté
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Burnside Eco-Efficiency

There are many ways to recover resources from what was once considered waste...

There are many ways to recover resources from what was once considered waste. Generally waste is defined as something that someone doesn’t want and needs to discard. For that reason garbage collection services have been around for hundreds of years.

In earlier times, individuals carried out these services. However, as towns and cities grew, municipal governments took over the responsibility. While this has been the case for many years now, more recently corporations such as Waste Management Corp. and Miller Waste have been expanding to offer a wider range of services such as separation, recycling landfill operation and landfill gas recovery and energy generation.

But within this perspective, waste is still something to be discarded because the generator doesn’t want it. Instead, the waste component of an input stream should be channeled into a processing or manufacturing facility as a resource. For example, some sawmill and lumber producers once viewed woods chips and sawdust as a waste byproduct, although now it’s commonly regarded as a resource for pulp and paper mills.

The fact of the matter is that it’s all resource. Waste is a human and perhaps economic construct. Some smart municipalities are now using waste resources such as organic material as an input to anaerobic digesters and producing methane that could be burned for heat or as a fuel for electricity generation. The residue then becomes a soil amendment.

So the “waste” now has a double value. This is a different way of thinking about waste. Nova Scotia has gone a long way down this road, but could do more.

The component of the original resource that one manufacturer might not want could become someone else’s resource. This way of thinking is known as industrial symbiosis or by-product synergy. The concept is that any manufacturing process generates both product and by-products. The latter could be physical material, but it could also be heat or hot water.

The former Eco-Efficiency Centre had led this way of thinking in Nova Scotia, looking for opportunities for resource recovery and re-use among small, medium and large manufacturers and processors in Burnside and elsewhere. There were opportunities identified, but much more analysis and promotion needs to be done. The Centre only scratched the surface.

In the United States this has now become a significant new economic recovery initiative. Wasting resources is seen as an inefficient and ineffective way to grow. There are now efforts to encourage by-product synergy in places as diverse as Texas, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon and Washington states.

They are even utilizing a technique we pioneered in Nova Scotia, namely, industrial speed dating wherein representatives of businesses get together and provide information on their resource needs and by-products generated. The networks in the U.S. have now taken things much further using innovative matchmaking techniques with smart phone applications.

What are some of the benefits of this approach? Here are a few of them:

• changing waste into a revenue stream

• fostering cross-industry communication

• reducing waste disposal costs

• educing waste disposal into landfills

• reducing demand for virgin materials from out of province

• creating new business opportunities

• improving business competitiveness.

Is this a way of thinking we should be encouraging in Nova Scotia? It’s consistent with our internationally recognized waste resource management philosophy.

Ray Côté is a Senior Research Fellow with the Eco-Efficiency Centre, and Professor Emeritus with the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University.

Organizations: Waste Management, Miller Waste, Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, United States, Texas Kansas Ohio Illinois Michigan Oregon Washington

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