SSE, recycling, re-use and circular economy

Industrial ecology is an inter-disciplinary and systemic approach that seeks to assimilate the functioning of industrial ecosystems with that of natural ecosystems using concepts such as industrial symbiosis or industrial metabolism. In other words, there is an interrelation between industries (all human activities, regardless of whether they are linked to farming, transport, production, etc.) and the social and natural environment. Industrial ecology advocates closed cycles of matter and energy and efficient internal processes in order to minimize the use of resources and lessen the production of waste and polluting products. This would partially be achieved by using by-products and waste from one industry as the raw material for another, thus imitating the way natural ecosystems work. This would lead to greater collaboration and a closer relationship between industries in the same sector or between different actors operating on the same territory. Contrary to conventional economics, which only takes monetary flows into account within an economic system, industrial ecology is concerned with all resource flows, whether based on energy, humans or raw materials.

Its main characteristics are therefore:

  • imitation of the way that ecosystems function, where waste from one species serves as the raw material for another;

  • optimization of all resources;

  • dematerialization of the system, reducing the use of materials (land energy, raw materials and human resources);

  • reduction in the environmental impact of human activities;

  • less dependency on fossil energies;

  • networking within sectors or between economic actors on the same territory, a method that could become a territorial-scale planning tool;

  • represents an excellent planning tool for installing new industrial ecosystems.

Industrial ecology shares a number of principles with the solidarity economy: sustainability, reciprocity, proximity, local autonomy, trust and responsibility. Its ties to the solidarity economy mean that it can take on an ethical and social purpose. As far as its application to solidarity economy initiatives is concerned, it could represent a way of creating synergy between several companies in the same sector (for example, hundreds of small-scale producers in India’s textile industry) or operating on the same territory, in terms of searching for raw materials, producing renewable energies, waste treatment, recycling of waste from one industry or sector by another and territorial planning that links up different actors, such as local authorities, producers and consumers, with beneficial consequences for the territory in environmental terms.

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