Abstract: Industrial ecology (IE) argues the need for an efficient materials economy based on recycling where environmental degradation associated with inputs of new materials and outputs of waste or pollution is minimal. There is often an assumption that efficiency in the use of materials equates to economic efficiency; however, this is not necessarily the case. Central to this tension between engineering and economic approaches to materials efficiency are different conceptual framings of value. Because a large scale shift towards valuing waste materials as future resources involves changes to existing practices of a great many actors and organizations, ranging from consumers and household disposal practices, through to government agencies and multi-national corporations, it cannot be assumed that all operate with similar conceptions of value. This paper reviews current understandings of value in IE and argues that they need to be expanded to accommodate approaches to valuing used goods and materials that manifest across different spatial scales, from household disposal practices to national policy to global production networks (GPNs). The paper focuses, in particular, on understandings of value relevant to metals recycling in Australia and contrast material flow models from IE with other models of material flows and transformations available in the social sciences, including anthropological analysis of the movement of objects through different regimes of value within society and analysis in economic geography that highlights spatial and structural dimensions influential in commodity chains and networks for used products and materials. It concludes by reflecting on the significance of the dynamic and creative tensions inherent in the production of value for recycled metals from Australia.
Abstract: This article considers regulatory strategies that promote more efficient use of material inputs within the Australian economy, with particular focus on recycling and recovery of metals, drawing upon the concept of a “circular economy”. It briefly reviews the nature of regulation and trends in regulatory strategies within changing policy contexts, and then examines the regulatory framework applicable to the various phases in the life cycle of metals, ranging from extraction of minerals to processing and assimilation of metals into finished products, through to eventual disposal of products as waste. Discussion focuses upon the regulatory strategies applied in each phase and the changing roles of government and business operators within global distribution networks. It is concluded that the prevailing political agenda favoring deregulation and reduced taxation may be a major barrier to development of new styles of regulation and more effective use of taxation powers that is needed to support a more circular economy in metals. The implication for future research is the need to substantiate the outcomes of reflexive regulatory strategies with well-designed empirical studies.
Abstract: During the period of 1961–2008, demand for renewable resources and ecological services (as measured through the Ecological Footprint methodology) in the Mediterranean region grew by 52% (from 2.06 to 3.12 global hectares per capita), while availability of such resources and services (or biocapacity (BC)) decreased by 16% (from 1.49 to 1.26 global hectares per capita). As all economic activities ultimately depend on ecological assets—such as productive land and marine areas, and the services and resources they produce—this paper presents a reflection on the economic implications of such resource and service overconsumption in the Mediterranean region. Our conclusion is that, in a world characterized by the existence of biophysical limits, risks may exist for Mediterranean economies due to the concurrence of: (1) resource scarcity; (2) increasing resource prices; and (3) challenging national economic situations.
Abstract: The declining availability of natural resources and the environmental impacts of continued extraction of primary resources for production activities have forced greater focus on waste streams and recycling activities. Industrial ecology as a field of practice and theory has been closely related to sustainability issues, yet despite the development of much theory and specific tools and methodologies, the link between natural, industrial and economic systems is not convincing. Not only that, the need for delivering sustainable production and consumption practices is increasing, which is demanding new solutions to existing problems, particularly around the degree of novelty. The interaction of industrial ecology with business studies and industrial investment decision-making remains under-developed, and this is likely impacting on the adoption of more sustainable and resource-efficient practices. As such, this paper uses a constructive approach and explores how two areas of the literature can support the development of the industrial ecology field into strategic business practice: firstly, the innovation literature, particularly the emerging work on open innovation and sustainable innovation as a model to understand radical innovation processes and the creation and maintenance of networked systems of firms; secondly, the closely related area of business model (BM) innovation, specifically the emerging typologies of sustainable BMs and how these typologies can be developed and used as a route to positioning recycling activities at the strategic management level of the firm.
Abstract: Drawing on current international industrial ecology thinking and experiences with Australian initiatives, this article critically overviews the current status of industrial ecology in Australia and examines the barriers and potential strategies to realise greater uptake and application of the concept. The analysis is conducted across three categories: heavy industrial areas (including Kwinana and Gladstone), mixed industrial parks (Wagga Wagga and Port Melbourne), and waste exchange networks, and identifies the past and future significance of seven different types of barriers—regulation, information, community, economic, technical, cooperation and trust, commitment to sustainable development—for each of the three categories. The outcomes from this analysis highlight that regulation, information, and economic barriers for heavy industrial area and mixed industrial parks, and economic and technical barriers for waste exchange networks are the current and future focus for industrial ecology applications in Australia. These findings appear to be consistent with recently published frameworks and learnings. The authors propose key questions that could enhance greater adoption of industrial ecology applications in Australia and acknowledge that international research and experiences, while partly providing answers to these questions, need to be adapted and refined for the Australian context.
Abstract: This paper assesses world-wide patterns of material extraction, trade, consumption and productivity based on a new data set for economy-wide material flows, covering used materials for all countries world-wide between 1980 and 2009. We show that global material extraction has grown by more than 90% over the past 30 years and is reaching almost 70 billion tonnes today. Also, trade volumes in physical terms have increased by a factor of 2.5 over the past 30 years, and in 2009, 9.3 billion tonnes of raw materials and products were traded around the globe. China has turned into the biggest consumer of materials world-wide and together with the US, India, Brazil and Russia, consumes more than 50% of all globally extracted materials. We also show that the per-capita consumption levels are very uneven, with a factor of more than 60 between the country with the lowest and highest consumption in 2009. On average, each human being consumed 10 tonnes of materials in 2009, 2 tonnes more than in 1980. We discuss whether decoupling of economies’ growth from resource use has occurred and analyse interrelations of material use with human development. Finally, we elaborate on key environmental problems related to various material groups.