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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Zero waste in industrial networks – the ZeroWIN Project

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Our global economy has evolved with little consideration towards the residuals of production and consumption and their impacts on the environment, which include resource depletion; air, water and land contamination; and the deterioration of related ecosystem goods and services. The waste we generate is enormous: in 2008, the total generation of waste in the EU-27 amounted to 2.62 billion tonnes (5.2 tonnes per capita), with 98 million tonnes classified as hazardous waste.

ZeroWIN industrial networks
ZeroWIN industrial networks

The most important sectors in terms of waste generation are  construction, mining and manufacturing industry. By comparison, households contributed just 221 million tonnes (8.5%). These wasted materials represent valuable resources that we can no longer afford to discard. As demand for key resources such as metals and minerals increases, competition for resources is growing. Policy-makers, industry and consumers are concerned about supply risk, the need to diversify supply from the Earth's resources and about the environmental implications of burgeoning consumption. There is a clear need for effective closed-loop resource management systems, especially within industry.

ZeroWIN refurbishment
ZeroWIN refurbishment

Project ZeroWIN - Towards Zero Waste in Industrial Networks ( - is an ambitious EU-funded project researching - and trialling by means of case studies with industrial partners - methods and strategies to eliminate the wasteful consumption of resources in key industrial sectors in Europe, primarily via the formation of industrial networks. The project runs from 2009-2014 and so it is nearing the end phase. It has 30 academic, research and industrial partners across Europe, and one partner in Taiwan. The companies involved range from small charitable organisations to multi-nationals like Continental Tyres and Hewlett Packard.

The ZeroWIN project will report on how existing approaches and tools can be improved and combined to best effect in an industrial network and how innovative technologies and design innovations can contribute to achieving the project's zero waste vision. It is focusing on two key waste types in four industry sectors:

  • Electronics waste; from three sectors:
    • Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE);
    • Automotive sector;
    • Photovoltaic (PV) sector; and
  • Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste.
Reuse networks
Reuse networks

The main aim of the project is to show that the approach adopted by the ZeroWIN consortium can enable industrial networks in targeted sectors to meet at least two of the following stringent targets:

  • 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 70% overall re-use and recycling of waste;
  • 75% reduction of fresh water use.

A key part of the project was to make a comprehensive review of literature, current practice and policy so that a common vision could be created as a foundation for the demonstration activities in each industry sector. The key concepts, guiding principles, technologies, methods and tools that have been distilled into the key strategies that underpin the ZeroWIN approach; they are: designing waste out of the system; industrial symbiosis and closed-loop supply chain management; use of effective waste prevention methods and new technologies; applying Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR); and accurate monitoring and assessment of results.

The D4R makes use of by-products from other companies along the supply chain, including reused components from existing computers recovered by social economy enterprises
The D4R Laptop

The ZeroWIN vision, upon which all the demonstration projects are based, was written by a team led by Professor Ian Williams from the University of Southampton.A production model for resource-use optimisation and waste prevention has also been developed. Other elements run in parallel, including 9 case studies (practical demonstrator projects) which will put the production model to use, and detailed quantitative assessment throughout to evaluate success. The policy implications of the ZeroWIN approach will be reported and extensive dissemination of results is planned.

Defining zero waste

The zero waste concept - that today's waste is tomorrow's raw material - recognizes the urgent need to move from our current one-way linear resource use and disposal culture to a ‘closed-loop' circular system. The term "zero waste" is perhaps a bit misleading in that it does not mean that wastes will not arise in society. The zero waste approach envisions a "second industrial revolution", with all industrial inputs being used in final products or converted into value-added inputs for other industries or processes. In this way, industries will be reorganized into clusters such that each industry's wastes / by-products are fully matched with the input requirements of another industry, and the integrated whole produces no waste. From an environmental perspective, the elimination of waste represents the ultimate solution to pollution problems that threaten ecosystems at global, national and local levels. In addition, full use of raw materials, accompanied by a shift towards renewable sources, means that utilization of the Earth's resources can be brought back to sustainable levels. Zero waste in industrial networks can therefore be understood as a new standard for efficiency and integration.

The ZeroWIN consortium has described zero waste as designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials as close to zero as possible, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. It is envisaged that zero waste to landfill or incineration in Europe can be achieved over a 10-30 year timescale, although a co-ordinated and concerted effort focused on waste prevention, minimisation and re-use will be necessary. It is important to recognise that zero waste is a target to be strived for, not an absolute, and it is possible that landfill or incineration may ultimately be the best option for a very small number of wastes. As well as encouraging waste diversion from landfill and incineration, zero waste is a guiding design philosophy for eliminating waste at source and at all points down the supply chain.

An Industrial network

The ZeroWIN team defined an industrial network is a network of industrial companies (minimum three entities), which cooperate with each other on the basis of resources exchange. The scope and boundary of an industrial network shows a network of potentially diverse industries working together in symbiosis; note the cross-cutting influence of design. The thick orange line represents the boundary of the industrial network under the ZeroWIN vision. Primary sector functions, mainly supplying raw materials, and the tertiary sector functions that interface with the consumer, are outside of ZeroWIN's scope. So too is the ‘use' phase of the product, and the end of life of the product until the point where the materials re-enter the industrial network to be used again, whether by means of repair/remanufacture or to be recycled and used as raw materials. A second, larger boundary will be used to enable a full assessment of the network, using Life Cycle Assessment methods.

Zerowin outputs

Many outputs are expected over the duration of the project - there are almost 40 project deliverables in total, ranging from tangible outputs such as a prototype D4R* laptop to reports and guidance documents on new methods and systems (*D4R = Design for Re-use, Recycling, Refurbishment, Repair). Ultimately, the key results will be the quantitative assessment of the performance of the ZeroWIN approach by 9 case studies applying the production model. These form the core of the project, and will each be measured against the 3 environmental targets outlined earlier.

Other outputs will be recommendations to policy-making, the creation of a Knowledge Management Platform on zero waste and the delivery of education, training and support services on this new sustainable approach in industry. More general outcomes of the project will include the impact on research and industrial practice externally and secondary impacts on employment, the economy and health of EU citizens. The 9 case studies (and their associated industrial networks) are:

1.         D4R Laptop

2.         D4R PV System

3.         Re-Use Network

4.         Resource Efficiency Construction Networks (UK)

5.         Resource Efficiency Construction Networks (Portugal)

6.         Refurbishment projects (Germany)

7.         Demolition of end of life buildings (UK)

8.         Demolition of end of life buildings (Portugal)

9.         Automotive part recycling

10.        Business to business IT industrial networks

A Special Issue of the journal Waste and Resource Management highlighting these innovative demonstration projects is in preparation and will be published in 2014.

Example of outputs

The D4R laptop computer - designed and manufactured by MicroPro (a SME based in Dublin) - combines eco-design with a maximization of the reuse potential of the computer, in order to minimise waste through-out the life-cycle and across the supply chain. The D4R laptop makes extensive use of by-products from other companies along the supply chain, including reused components from existing computers recovered by social economy enterprises. It uses retooled plywood from the automobile industry and recycled industrial aluminium for the housing and facilitates the use of reused parts and components, including the LED screen, the hard drive, the memory, the power supply and so on. To permit the incorporation of a variety of reused components, MicroPro has developed a unique "universal motherboard" that can fit a wide range of recovered parts and components. The D4R laptop also proposes a novel product/service marketing model where "hubs" or partner companies in different regions will provide a localised repair, upgrading and takeback service ensuring that equipment is properly maintained and upgraded, rather than disposed of, and that parts and components are recovered rather than discarded or reprocessed.

A construction resource efficiency stakeholder network that adopts the concept of sustainable construction in the UK has been developed. The stakeholder network includes the client, designer and main contractor of a construction development. The aim of the stakeholder network is to create an industrial network of suppliers and disposal options that reduces the sector's consumption of resources. As part of this practical demonstrator, work was carried out on three construction sites operated by Wilding Butler, a medium-sized construction contractor, based near Winchester, Hampshire. Each of these sites is known as Phases 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Phase 1 was developed to collect baseline data to assess greenhouse gas emissions, reuse and recycling rates and fresh water consumption. These figures provided the baseline to measure environmental improvements on phase 2 and 3 construction sites. The sites in Phases 2 and 3 focus on improving the reduction of resource use in the construction process by working with different actors in the industrial network to address the gaps and to adopt environmental best practice identified in Phase 1.

An international challenge

This activity has never been undertaken previously by such a large group of international experts and industrial organisations with such a range of different viewpoints and perspectives. As a consequence, the outputs and conclusions from this project will be of international interest and significance. ZeroWIN is an ambitious project set with difficult goals, but meeting these challenges will be necessary if society is to solve the pollution and resource problems of current industrial practices in a sustainable way.

Take a look at our You Tube channel to find out more about the ZeroWIN project

Associated research themes

Water and Environment

Energy and Climate Change

Related research groups

Centre for Environmental Sciences
Waste Management
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