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Industrial ecology


Industrial ecology or what is currently referred to as green design seeks to address the waste management problem from within the processes of production that are responsible for generating hazardous waste rather than the character and location of the wastes and facilities as is the case in justice research and environmental equity.  This paper will look at the description of industrial ecology and argue about the concept’s strength in contributing to pollution prevention efforts and waste management as well as explore its political feasibility in the United States.


Industry ecology was convened as a colloquium in 1991 by the United States National Academy of Science. The aim of this colloquium was to exploit the new approaches emerging in industrial design of products and the processes involved and the implementation of manufacturing strategies that are sustainable.  This colloquium identified, the need for research as well as development to work in tandem with advances in technology in an effort to reduce the pollution perpetuated by industries’ production design which has also in the years been re-emphasized by engineering and scientific communities. This is in an effort to emulate the industrial ecology described in Type III. Both the government of America and that of Canada have in recent years been encouraging industries to engage in voluntary programs aimed at pollution preventing in an effort to reduce the hazardous waste as well as other contaminants that might harm the environment in the production stage rather than after the waste is generated consistent with industrial ecology. This is a management hierarchy that considers source reduction, alternative materials to phase out toxins, recycling and reuse as opposed to treatment and disposal. This view is also held by several other industry groups. The concept draws its structural analogy from the natural ecosystem in its effort to define the relationship between products by the industries, residue generation as well as the treatment of waste and disposal of the same. In this concept, internalization of pollution within the process of production is viewed as being a more effective method of production because of the environmental implications presented by uncontrolled emission as well as the economical inefficiencies presented by waste material disposal (Fletcher).

The strength of Industry ecology in aspects of waste management is that it emphasizes on a more fundamental rethinking about the six elements of manufacturing. This includes the utilization of materials of desired properties during the formulation or extraction stages that are of the which contributing to overall industry environmental friendliness; adopting this concept also eliminates the need for storage and the long-term degradation of nonhazardous or hazardous feedstock materials by utilizing the philosophy of just-in-time raw materials; the process substitution employed also eliminates feedstock that may be toxic in nature; the engineering processes are controlled so as to assure a reliable and robust process: and also the considerations are made about the end-life of produced products to ensure their recyclability (Fletcher).

The processing and manufacturing industries are always keen on improving their efficient use of economic resources. It therefore goes without saying that most industries are likely to adopt techniques and technologies that will enable it to conserve materials and also minimizes or avoid completely the need for waste management. Pollution control usually has many hidden costs associated with it. Prevention of pollution ultimately reduces or prevents these. Industry ecology identifies four incentives that would drive industries towards pollution prevention that the American and Canadian regulatory aspects apply. This includes the increase in the disposal costs; the prospect of incurring financial liabilities in implementing clean-up activities even in situations where the generator of waste might not be directly responsible for disposing waste improperly; waste disposal also presents liabilities by third-parties; there is also the risk of being adversely opposed by the public which is often unpredictable (Fletcher).

Although measures of ensuring pollution preventions have always occupied center stage in politics especially around election periods, legislature passing to make some of the identified standards law, have often been missing. As it is, there has been a lack of regulation aimed in minimizing waste in the production process. The existing regulations allow most industries to rely on land-disposal as means of pollution control. This is attractive to industries as it presents a cheaper alternative of waste disposal. Unfortunately this method presents severe long-term environmental impacts than any other. In addition to this, production technologies that have been proven in the past are more likely to be adopted by industries as opposed to new alternatives aimed at reducing pollution. This problem is exacerbated as the adopted production processes mature, as many firms are less likely then to abandon them. Confidentiality presents an addition problem in that companies which develop ways of efficiently reducing waste are always reluctant to share this development with others. This is because such methods enable it to maintain a competitive advantage over its competitors. Confidentiality however still dogs the efforts of pollution prevention programs aimed at facilitating exchange of at least information on waste reduction at a generic level between corporate (Fletcher).

Many groups including government environmental strategies as well as industry have in recent parts enthusiastically taken to pollution prevention debate.  The government of America In conjunction with the Canadian government has since 1972 showed their commitment to the virtual elimination of toxic substances that have persistently plagued the great lakes region. This bilateral agreement was amended in 1987 with the International Joint Commission (IJC) being mandates to support efforts to wipe out toxic substance use, manufacture and disposal.  Political will in pollution prevention policies in the United States can be traced to the “Pollution Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1990” (114). However, the Environmental Protection Agency is not empowered by the law to address the issue only providing legislative basis that provides for preferred environmental management hierarchy that is aimed at minimizing waste production as the priority and the disposal of production waste as a last result. A pollution prevention ethic is emphasized at the EPA especially when considering actions of enforcement.  However the federal government has not as yet initiated any program for waste exchange although a national private network, two programs that are state run as well as four private regional programs. Most industries still push for their companies to be recognized for conducting recycling off-site a trend referred to as green-washing by organizations such as Green Peace. On their part, environmentalists as well as relevant government officials are advocating adaption of industrial ecology concepts by companies by implementing recycling measures on-site in addition to source reduction of emissions as the key in prevention of pollution (Fletcher). 


Industrial ecology presents methods that are environmentally sound and contribute to waste management through the elimination or reduction of waste in the production process itself. This presents an economically and environmentally sensible method of pollution prevention. The government has been an advocate of this concept for a while now. However, it has lacked in regulation implementation to emphasis its views. As it is, the concept has not fully received the political backing it requires to be adopted on a holistic level relying instead on industry goodwill for its implementation in production processes.

Works cited

Fletcher, Thomas Hobbs. From Love Canal to environmental justice: the politics of hazardous waste on the Canada-U.S. border. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

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