Back to Videos

Potential of Industrial Symbiosis in Europe: Towards a Circular Manufacturing Sector

Dr. Teresa Domenech

Manufacturing sector in Europe is the second largest of the NACE sections within the EU-27 non-financial business economy, employs around 28.5 million persons (22.8%) and in 2017 generated EUR 1 820 billion of value added (29.3%) (EUROSTAT, 2020). The manufacturing sector is also an important generator of waste, which amounts to 21.3% of all waste generated in Europe (excluding major mineral waste), although variations across MSs are very significant. A key component of the Europe 2020 strategy and Green Deal, the Circular Economy (CE) stresses the connections between increased material efficiency and climate change pointing to the need of ensuring decoupling of economic growth from consumption of resources and environmental impacts as an essential element of the sustainability agenda, as recognised by SDGs (SGD12 and ). The manufacturing sector plays a key role in the transition towards new sustainable patterns of production and consumption and recovery of products, components and materials at the end of life and is pivotal to the transition towards the CE. One practical strategy for CE implementation is related to Industrial Symbiosis. Industrial Symbiosis can be defined a system approach to a more sustainable and integrated industrial system, which identifies business opportunities that leverage underutilised resources (such as materials, energy, water, capacity, expertise, assets etc.) (Lombardi and Laybourn, 2012). IS involves organisations operating in different sectors of activity that engage in mutually beneficial transactions to reuse waste and by-products, finding innovative ways to source inputs and optimising the value of the residues of their processes. IS has also been seen as a practical approach to “enhance resource efficiency, reduce waste generation and GHG emissions via material, energy, by-products exchange between different processes and industries” (Sun et al., 2017). European MSs have seen a surge of Industrial Symbiosis (IS), driven both by public and private initiative. In this talk I present an updated overview of IS activity in Europe, with a mapping of key networks, and a study of prevailing typologies of networks, size, geographical distribution and main streams/ resources traded. The analysis is based on a combination of desk research, gathering of primary data from case studies, a survey to IS network facilitators (n = 22) and in-depth interviews and focus groups (3) with IS practitioners, policy officers and industry representatives (n = 25). The analysis identified pockets of IS activity across all Europe, although varying in nature, resources exchanged and scale and scope of the initiatives. The average size of the mapped networks is approx. 473 members, but the median is approx. 100 members, which indicates high variability of sizes. The geographical scope of the synergies also seems to be dependent upon the following factors: 1) the type of waste stream/by-product; 2) transport costs and 3) market value of secondary materials. Types of waste streams exchanged common to most networks, are chemicals (e.g. chemical base products), biomass and agriculture by-products, wood and wood pellets, plastics, reusable construction materials, equipment, inert waste and water (different qualities including industrial water), residual heat and steam. Secondly, the assessment of performance of IS network is briefly discussed, providing evidence of contribution of IS to sustainability targets and its performance, measured as value of IS investment. The talk concludes with a brief identification of key obstacles facing IS development in Europe highlighting: 1) weakness of economic incentives given the low margin of IS projects associated to undeveloped secondary markets; 2) geographical variation of incentives and drivers, given differences in policy frameworks and support mechanisms (e.g. landfill tax levels) and 3) legislative issues that make transport over geographic boundaries extremely complex and administratively burdensome.