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The University of Southampton

New research project aims for zero waste in industrial networks

Published: 20 February 2013

An ambitious 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 EC under the 7th Framework Programme, with 31 academic and industrial partners across Europe and Asia. The project is concerned with regional collaboration of companies from traditionally separated sectors, which exchange by-products – energy, water and materials – in such a way that the waste from one industry becomes raw material 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:

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

Ian Williams, Professor of Applied Environmental Science at the University of Southampton, who are one of the project partners, says: “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 a substantial proportion (an estimated 30-50 per cent) of Europe’s total waste – 850-900 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 timescales (2009 – 2014).

By incorporating progressively more ZeroWIN principles as they learn from earlier phases and overcoming the barriers they encounter, the innovations and improvements achieved so far and those that are anticipated include:

  • Offsite manufacture of concrete and timber beams – preparing concrete can be done more efficiently and on a larger scale off-site, so this reduces water and energy use. Also, the right amount and exact size of materials mean there are no offcuts or waste to deal with at the site, where time and space.
  • Main waste streams (concrete, brick, plasterboard, metal and timber) were segregated on-site to avoid contamination in mixed-waste skips, retaining the materials’ value. By-products were also re-used on the site where possible (e.g. concrete and bricks from the demolition were used as aggregate fill material in the new construction). This cut down on transport energy use and reduced the need to obtain and transport virgin materials.
  • Over-ordering of timber and bricks was 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.

Professor 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.”

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