One company’s waste is another’s resource.
As the climate struggles to maintain equilibrium, the idea of a linear economy – one that depends on the continual extraction and conversion of raw materials into finished goods – is no longer viable. Landfills are overflowing with the remnants of a consumption-centric world economy where the latest and greatest becomes old hat in years, if not months.
A circular economy is not only viable but scalable. Goods are produced in a sustainable way, one where materials are recycled and reused whenever possible and resources (raw materials, water, energy, etc.) are used sparingly to turn old into new.
The advantages of a circular economy are many. From an environmental standpoint, waste and greenhouse gases are reduced, recycling is systematized, and the dependence on raw materials is decreased. From an economic standpoint, a circular economy stimulates innovation and creates new opportunities for businesses.
Industrial symbiosis in action.
In 2020, the state legislature created the industrial symbiosis program. It’s designed to create “valuable collaborative opportunities where the underutilized resources of one company may be used by another.”
Industrial symbiosis is broadly defined and includes waste, by-products, residues, energy and water. The idea is not new. Companies understand their bottom line and continually seek to minimize the expense of waste treatment and disposal. This program seeks to go beyond waste reduction by turning waste into a resource that benefits the producer and stimulates new business opportunities that support the circular economy.
This new program looks across the state to expand existing industrial symbiosis efforts, assist others that are on their way and support those still on the drawing board. While there are different strategies to help businesses find new uses for their waste, the goal is the same: to achieve a mutual benefit between businesses and public entities (e.g. utilities) while reducing waste.
More detailed information on industrial symbiosis, and how it may help Washington businesses and communities is contained in our 2019 report to the legislature: Washington Industrial Waste Coordination (Industrial Symbiosis) Program Recommendations (PDF).
Capitalizing on new opportunities.
There are promising efforts throughout Washington State; some that are working already, others that are on their way, and still more on the drawing board.
For example, Beta Hatch in Cashmere plans to use waste heat from nearby businesses to grow mealworms for livestock feed. Columbia Pulp in Starbuck uses crop stubble to make recyclable food containers, while also providing waste stubble to be converted into biochar by NuPhY (Spokane). Researchers at Washington State University are testing this biochar with fly ash from Inland Empire Paper (Spokane) as a soil amendment to increase crop yields in the Palouse with some promising results. Cosmo Specialty Fibers in Cosmopolis has long recognized the value of its lignosulfonate (red liquor) waste, and have experienced some success in finding customers outside the state.
Another emerging opportunity within industrial symbiosis includes anaerobic digestion which is the process of taking organic waste and converting it to reclaimed natural gas (RNG) and nutrients. This process has been in practice at Washington dairies for many years. Our biggest example is at DeRuyter and Sons Dairies in Yakima, however, smaller-scale digesters are also operating in Whatcom County such as Edaleen and Vander Haak Farms. Local governments have expressed interest in small-scale anaerobic digesters and have increased access to municipal compost.
Public utilities, particularly wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), are another longtime practitioner of industrial symbiosis. Whether it’s biosolids, reclaimed water, anaerobic digesters or waste heat, WWTPs are using this type of municipal waste for multiple benefits. Opportunities to increase this practice are especially apparent during the necessary upgrades made by these facilities to keep serving their communities.
A helping hand when you need one.
Companies engaged in the industry can count on the support of the state and the industry at large. Washington has a robust network of trade associations, including 21 agriculture commodity commissions (listed on the right), Northwest Food Processors Association, Northwest Horticultural Council, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.