Unmaking Waste in Production and Consumption: Towards the Circular Economy

Cover of Unmaking Waste in Production and Consumption: Towards the Circular Economy
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Table of contents

(23 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xxi
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Introduction

Pages 1-10
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Part I: History, Theory and Experience

Abstract

In the face of increasing resource insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change, more governments and businesses are now embracing the concept of the circular economy. This chapter presents some historical background to the concept, with particular attention paid to its assumed opposite, the ‘linear’ or growth economy. While the origins of the circular economy concept are to be found in 1960s environmentalism, the chapter draws attention to the influence of the then ‘new’ sciences of ecology and ‘cybernetics’ in shaping the public environmental discourse of the period. It also draws attention to the background of the present linear economy in postwar policies that encouraged reconstruction and a social and economic democratisation across the West, including an expansion of mass-consumption. It emphasises the role of the 1960s counterculture in generating a popular reaction against this expansionary growth-based agenda, and its influence in shaping subsequent environmentalism, including the ‘metabolic’ and ecological economic understanding of the environmental crisis that informs the concept of the circular economy. Reflecting upon this historical preamble, the chapter concludes that more attention should be paid to the economic, cultural and social contexts of consumption, now more clearly the main driver of our global environmental crisis. Without now engaging more directly with the ‘consumption problem’, the chapter argues, it seems unlikely that the goals of the circular economy can be met.

Abstract

This chapter focusses on the links between economic ideas, sustainability and the circular economy. Economics begins with the view that all resources are scarce and careful and informed choices must be made to ensure resources are used efficiently and not wasted. Given the fundamental importance of markets to human resource allocation decisions, unless economic concepts, especially markets and prices, are used to help transition towards the circular economy, a sustainable economic growth process is unlikely to be achieved. Economists have long grappled with the problems of resource depletion, unsustainable growth and intergenerational equity. Their ideas and views about the interconnection between markets, the environment and resource use have been in existence for several centuries. While frequently overlooked, some of these ideas have important insights for sustainable development and the implementation of a circular economy. The chapter will consider how economic concepts could be used to help society transition to a circular economy. It will also argue that difficulties with the implementation of a circular economy lie less with the application of economic instruments, and more with the political and institutional constraints that reduce our ability to think creatively and innovatively about ‘cradle-to-cradle’ processes.

Abstract

Smog and other environmental effects of accelerated industrialisation are increasingly driving China towards more restorative economic models. One of these is the circular economy (CE), which encourages the design of products and systems that can be returned and the materials recycled, reused or remanufactured. This chapter discusses the experiences with China’s policies for promoting the CE over the past decade as well as future plans. It is based on a thorough review of China’s policies originally available in Chinese. Exemplary CE projects with success stories are also presented. The aim is to present a more comprehensive understanding of China’s CE efforts. Other developing countries also facing environmental and resource challenges can draw on China’s experiences in developing their own CE.

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Abstract

Biosolids, the residual solids from wastewater treatment operations and once considered a waste product by the industry, are now becoming increasingly recognised as a multifunctional resource with growing opportunities for marketable use. This shift in attitude towards biosolids management is spurred on by increasing volatility in energy, fertilizer and commodity markets as well as moves by the global community towards mitigating global warming and the effects of climate change. This chapter will provide an overview of current global biosolids practices (paired with a number of Australian examples) as well as discuss potential future uses of biosolids. Additionally, present and future risks and opportunities of biosolids use are highlighted, including potential policy implications.

Part II: Consumption, Design and Behaviour

Abstract

Designing and manufacturing long-lasting things and minimizing the use of material resources are central concerns to the circular economy. Yet, repairing and repurposing objects, and the experiences and knowledge of those who extend the life of objects at the consumption level, are absent from discussions on the circular economy. Based on in-depth interviews focussing on practices of repair and repurposing within households, this article interrogates waste and its capacity to disturb, impede or provoke practices central to the circular economy. Re-considering waste within discussions on the circular economy is a way to bring to the surface the overlooked capacity of waste to enable or hinder household engagement in practices of repair and repurposing through waste’s heterogeneous and shifting components, sacredness and morality.

Abstract

Fashion/textile small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are currently adding value to previously discarded textile waste by applying practical skills, knowledge and expertise to rework and reuse this material. As a result, sustainable design strategies such as zero-waste pattern-cutting, design for disassembly and upcycling are beginning to emerge. However, the scope for redesign will always be limited and the complete lifecycle of the material used needs to be considered at the front-end of the innovation process, to optimise material lifespans and reduce consumer waste. Further work is also required to inspire and educate the next generation of designers to the creative potential of reuse, and help the industry to understand its viability, scalability and role in the future. This chapter explores how the principals of the circular economy might support business model innovation within fashion and textiles. To this end, an exploratory canvas tool for SMEs, ‘Circular by Design’, was devised to aid SMEs to embrace closed-loop systems and to identify the most appropriate sustainable design strategies for their business.

Abstract

Conventional shopping-scapes are designed to promote a linear form of consumption. Products are moved from production systems through consumer distribution nodal points. The consumption of commodities through these points is promoted as the main, if not only, legitimate activity of shopping centres. A circular economic (CE) paradigm offers an alternative to the current model of linear consumption so that there are restorative processes to ensure products, components and materials are valued at all stages of product life (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2013). However, this model, like its contemporary linear model, overlooks the opportunities for more socially rewarding consumption that could particularly be addressed through the shopping scape. The ByeBuy! Shop was conceived to test ideas on an alternative shopping scape to increase social engagement and reduced consumption without the use of money for exchange. Accordingly, it is used here to exemplify a CE paradigm.

Abstract

In debates about recycling and the circular economy, the role of existing organisations that already facilitate the circulation of materials through society can be neglected. Indeed, the social enterprise sector may currently be more significant than the commercial waste management sector in facilitating the circular economy within Australia. Drawing on interviews with organisations involved in collecting and reprocessing used electronics and scrap metal in Australia, the authors detail some of the synergies and tensions between the social enterprises and commercial organisations that have emerged as recycling gains traction through government policy and various forms of product stewardship. The authors conclude with suggestions for policy and governance approaches most likely to facilitate productive and perhaps symbiotic relationships between the two sectors in the future.

Abstract

The Waste Management Hierarchy is a well-established framework for conceptualizing the spectrum of desirable behaviours to manage, reduce and avoid waste. To date, research relating to the householder behaviours on the Waste Management Hierarchy has primarily focused on the lower order disposal and recycling behaviours, reflecting the areas of historical policy attention. Recently, however, policy focus has shifted to ‘higher order’ behaviours such as reuse and avoidance, in line with Circular Economy thinking. To address the measurement gap, this chapter develops and tests a battery of householder waste behaviour measures across the entire waste hierarchy. The battery was piloted with 573 South Australian householders, where the ‘higher’ order waste behaviours are more likely to be displayed as the Waste Hierarchy has been embedded in waste policy directives for many years. Findings empirically validate the Waste Management Hierarchy, deliver a quantified benchmark of the prevalence of behaviours across its spectrum and explore the underlying motives driving pro-environmental behaviour.

Part III: Waste and Resource Recovery

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Abstract

The production of waste creates both direct and indirect environmental impacts. A range of strategies are available to reduce the generation of waste by industry and households, and to select waste treatment approaches that minimise environmental harm. However, evaluating these strategies requires reliable and detailed data on waste production and treatment. Unfortunately, published Australian waste data are typically highly aggregated, published by a variety of entities in different formats and do not form a complete time-series. We demonstrate a technique for constructing a multi-regional waste supply-use (MRWSU) framework for Australia using information from numerous waste data sources. This is the first subnational waste input–output framework to be constructed for Australia. We construct the framework using the Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory (IELab), a cloud-hosted computational platform for building Australian multiregional input–output tables. The structure of the framework complies with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). We demonstrate the use of the MRWSU framework by calculating waste ‘footprints’ that enumerate the full domestic supply chain waste production for Australian consumers.

Abstract

This research addresses the grave issue of plastic waste in the Pacific. By using Samoa as a case study, it was considered that distributed recycling combined with 3D printing offers an opportunity to (1) repurpose and add new value to this difficult waste stream and (2) engage diverse local communities in Samoa by combining notions of participatory design with traditional Samoan social concepts. Fieldwork in Samoa established the scope of the issue through interviews with stakeholders in government, waste management businesses, the arts and crafts community and education. Based on the information obtained from the fieldwork, potential product areas and designs were explored through material and 3D printing experiments using low-cost, open-source equipment. The experiments informed the design of speculative scenarios for workable, economically viable, socially empowering and sustainable systems for repurposing and upcycling plastic waste, which then enabled production of practically useful and culturally meaningful 3D printed objects, artefacts and products. Building upon the outcome and with a view towards implementation, Creative Pathways, an educational initiative aimed at propagating 3D printing and contextual design, was established and is being delivered in local schools.

Abstract

The circular economy has become a significant policy in many countries around the world. In order to achieve a circular economy, wasteful use of resources must be reduced and waste products from manufacturing must be reintroduced into production systems. It is, however, impossible to totally avoid scraps from the production of most goods. This chapter describes an investigation of current practices of 108 small-and-medium-sized manufacturers (SMEs) regarding their use of solid wastes or scraps. Of particular interest are the scraps generated by SMEs because they comprise 98.5% of all manufacturers in Thailand. Despite concern regarding the growing volume of scraps from production lines, this study collected data from both factory visits and from manufacturers and found that waste reclamation policies among SMEs are rare. Most factory owners resort to selling off-cuts to formal and informal recyclers as well as dumping scraps in the city’s bins. Despite the general recognition of the growing creative industry in Thailand, the use of design has not been considered as a potential solution to this problem by manufacturers. Since failures in scrap reclamation schemes for product designs also hinge on market prospects and opportunities perceived by manufacturers, market strategies in the green economy must be devised. Only then can Thailand achieve circular material flow in its industrial sector.

Abstract

The circular economy (CE) proposes that all materials flow in a close-looped system. Waste generated by one production stage may be useful in another. Thus, the idea of a CE is linked to the goal of zero waste (ZW) and promotes a range of sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits in each sector. When we apply this to construction waste management, waste can be managed through reducing, recycling, upcycling and reusing. However, there is an inevitable cost implication associated with this process due to the additional requirement of inventory and waste processing, and this becomes a disincentive to implementing the CE. Formal institutions, referring here to legal rules and regulations, play a critical role in motivating firms and individuals towards a CE. As different countries have different government rules and regulations, and there is limited research on their differences, we review Asia’s and Europe’s legal rules and regulations relevant to the goal of ZW and CE in the construction sector.

Abstract

With the rapid development of China’s urbanisation and market economy, municipal solid waste (MSW) generation is increasing dramatically. In response to the threat of environmental pollution and the potential value of converting waste into energy, both the government and the public are now paying more attention to MSW treatment and disposal methods. In 2014, 178.6 million tonnes of MSW was collected at a safe treatment rate of 84.8%. However, the treatment methods and the composition of MSW are influenced by the collection area, its gross domestic product, population, rainfall and living conditions. This chapter analysed the MSW composition properties of Lhasa, Tibet, compared with other cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou and so forth. The research showed that the moisture content of MSW in Lhasa approaches 31%, which is much lower than the other cities mentioned previously. The proportion of paper and plastics (rubbers) collected was 25.67% and 19.1%, respectively. This was 1.00–3.17 times and 0.75–2.44 times more than those found in Beijing and Guangzhou, respectively. Non-combustibles can reach up to 22.5%, which was 4.03–9.11 times that of Beijing and Guangzhou, respectively. The net heating values could reach up to 6,616 kilojoule/kilogram. The food residue was only half the proportion found in other cities. Moreover, the disposal method applied in each city has also been studied and compared.

Part IV: Technology and Systems Innovation

Abstract

Every year, tens of millions of the 1.4 billion cars on the world’s roads are decommissioned. While the ferrous and other metals that constitute about 75% of a vehicle by weight can be readily and profitably recycled, the remaining mix of plastics, glass, composites, complex materials, fragments and contaminants are mainly destined for landfill as automotive shredder residue (ASR). For every car, approximately 100–200 kg of ASR is disposed of in landfill, posing a growing technical and environmental challenge worldwide. The recovery of the ASR for high-end application is the focus of this study, aiming to optimise the use of these valuable resources and minimise the extractive pressure for raw materials, a future green manufacturing, contributing towards a zero waste circular economy. As the dissolution of carbon into iron is a key step in the manufacture of iron-carbon alloys, the feasibility of utilizing the waste polymers within ASR as sources of carbon in different areas of pyrometallurgical processing was investigated. Polypropylene and rubber, in a blend with metallurgical coke, were used as carbonaceous substrates and the slag-foaming phenomenon was investigated via the sessile drop technique in an argon environment at 1,550°C. The results indicated the rubber/coke blend achieved significantly better foaming behaviour, and the PP/coke blend exhibited a moderate improvement in slag foaming, in comparison to 100% metallurgical coke. The overall results indicated the incorporation of ASR had significant improvement in foaminess behaviour, increasing furnace efficiency.

Abstract

The circular economy (CE) requires that ‘used’ materials continue to be in circulation after their initial use has finished. Materials are typically sourced in the building industry as new materials in bulk that carry guarantees of safety, quality and delivery. The distributed and diverse origins of used materials mean that they do not normally carry these guarantees. Furthermore, existing potential procurement systems for reused materials such as eBay allow users to present their auctions in a loosely structured form that can make it difficult to manage and procure multiple items to satisfy the quantities, condition and type required by the contractor. Therefore, this chapter proposes an information system to support the agile procurement of used materials at a scale that is appropriate for construction projects to support the CE. It describes the development of a tool called ‘JunkUp’ that would allow multiple auctions of similar items from diverse sellers to be managed as a single item. Based on this system, in future work, it should be possible to use this tool to test strategies to address the risk to safety, quality and delivery of reused materials in construction. This should ultimately lead to the opportunity to increase material reuse (and reduce waste) in the building and construction sector and support an agile CE for the building industry.

Abstract

The new campus of Tianjin University was designed, built and now operates following a green and sustainable concept. The campus’ eco-friendly water environment was formed by establishing a water recycling system. The campus is divided into three drainage sections based on the masterplan. Each drainage section adopts different methods of collecting, utilizing and discharging water according to specific conditions, aimed at achieving both high drainage capability and the efficient utilisation of rainwater. The campus was designed so runoff pollution is reduced through the utilisation of low-impact development methods, ensuring the quality of the recharge water. Through studying the fundamentals of treatment measures and models for simulating water quality, water circulation, constructed wetlands and pollution control of rain runoff, parameters for efficient water recycling could be mathematically forecast, ensuring that stakeholders can be continuously engaged in improving and preserving the water quality of landscaped water on campus. The overall system integrates a variety of measures being implemented into one cohesive entity, which contributes to establishing the sustainable and healthy water cycling system of the green campus.

Abstract

The expected operational lifespan of modern buildings has become disturbingly short as buildings are replaced for reasons of changing cultural expectations, style, serviceability, locational obsolescence and economic viability. The same buildings, however, are not always physically or structurally obsolete; the materials and components within them are very often still serviceable. While there is some recycling of selected construction materials, such as steel and concrete, this is almost always in the form of down cycling or reprocessing. One significant impediment to reuse is that buildings are not designed in a way that facilitates easy recovery of materials and components. This chapter explores the potential for the recovery of materials and components if buildings were designed for such future recovery, utilizing the strategy of design for disassembly. As well as assessing material waste, this chapter presents research into the analysis of the embodied energy in buildings, highlighting its significance in comparison with operational energy. Analysis at material, component and whole-of-building levels shows the potential benefits of strategically designing buildings for future disassembly to recover this embodied energy. Careful consideration at the early design stage can result in the deconstruction of significant portions of buildings and the recovery of their potential through higher order reuse and upcycling.

Abstract

This chapter discusses the profound and influential impact the construction industry has on the national economy, together with the huge negative effect it has on the environment. It argues that by adopting smart and industrialised prefabrication (SAIP), the Australian construction industry, and the construction industry globally, is well positioned to leverage the circular economy to advance future industries with less impact on our natural environment. It discusses aspects of the application of digital technologies, specifically building information modelling, virtualisation, augmented and virtual reality and 3D printing, coupled with reverse logistics as a proponent for advancing the circular economy through smart, digitally enabled, industrialised prefabrication. It further postulates a framework for SAIP for the circular economy.

Afterword

Pages 337-338
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Index

Pages 339-353
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Cover of Unmaking Waste in Production and Consumption: Towards the Circular Economy
DOI
10.1108/9781787146198
Publication date
2018-09-13
Editors
ISBN
978-1-78714-620-4
eISBN
978-1-78714-619-8