An international project is aiming to develop new approaches to eliminate waste and reduce the environmental impact of industry.
ZeroWIN (Towards Zero Waste in Industrial Networks) is a five-year project, funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme, with 31 academic and industrial partners across Europe and Asia.
The project will look at possibilities for regional collaboration between companies from traditionally separated sectors that exchange by-products – such as energy, water and materials – so that the waste from one industry becomes raw materials for another.
The ZeroWIN project will determine how existing approaches and tools can be improved and combined to best effect in an industrial network, and how innovative technologies can contribute to achieving the zero waste vision.
The specific environmental targets are for a 30 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; a 70 per cent overall re-use and recycling of waste; and a 75 per cent reduction of fresh water use.
Ian Williams, Professor of Applied Environmental Science at the University of Southampton, which is one of the project partners, said: "The term 'zero waste' is perhaps a bit misleading in that it does not mean that wastes will not arise in society.
“Zero emissions represent a shift from the traditional industrial model, where waste is considered the norm, to integrated systems, where everything has its use. It advocates a transformation, whereby businesses minimise the load they impose on natural resources and learn to do more with what the Earth produces.
"The zero waste approach envisions a 'second industrial revolution', with all inputs used in final products or converted into value-added materials or resources for use by other industries or processes."
The project focuses on two key waste types – high-tech electronics waste from the electrical and electronic equipment, automotive and photovoltaic (PV) sectors and construction and demolition waste, which consumes huge amounts of resources and generates an estimated 30 to 50 per cent of Europe's total waste – 850 to 900 million tonnes a year.
The ZeroWIN approach is being tested in nine case studies of sustainable industrial networks.
The UK case study is provided by ZeroWIN partners Remade, a not-for-profit company operating in south-east England to research and develop new markets for waste materials, and Wilding Butler, a medium-sized construction contractor based in Hampshire, who are responsible for testing the zero waste approach in construction projects.
Remade and Wilding Butler decided to use three sites – a youth development centre in Aldershot, refurbishment of a school in Reading and the construction of 13 residential units in Southampton – over the ZeroWIN project timescale of 2009 to 2014.
Innovations and improvements achieved so far and those that are anticipated include more efficient offsite manufacture of concrete and timber beams. Waste streams such as concrete, brick, plasterboard, metal and timber were segregated on-site to avoid contamination in mixed-waste skips, while re-use of by-products on the site where possible.
Over-ordering of timber and bricks has also been reduced and suppliers were required to operate take-back schemes, resulting in less energy use and waste and the highest possible re-use of surplus materials. Social enterprises operating construction-material reuse centres were engaged to collect segregated materials and ensure their reuse.
Prof Williams says: "This case study demonstrates that a range of initiatives can reduce the environmental impact of construction towards a sustainable standard. For business, zero waste can mean greater competitiveness and a continuation of its drive towards efficiency that started with productivity of labour and capital; producing more from less. Zero waste in industrial networks can therefore be understood as a new standard for efficiency and integration.
"However, the widespread implementation of such improvements depends on the architects, designers, construction contractors and their clients making the effort, taking the time and, initially, bearing some extra cost."