What if we could grow the economy and make communities healthier by thinking about waste differently

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

By Lisa McCrummen, Center for Sustainable Infrastructure


Washington State has long had the good fortune of being the home to dreamers and innovators – who also deeply care about our natural environment.

So, it should come as no surprise that a new idea is capturing the imagination of so many across the state: it’s called industrial symbiosis.

It’s kind of wonky name for a revolutionary idea that essentially allows businesses to start collaborating together with resource match-making in mind, so that one industry’s waste – materials, heat, water -- becomes another industry’s resource.

This match making idea was pioneered and perfected in Kalundborg, Denmark and has since been embraced throughout Europe and China.  Kalundborg has proven that industrial symbiosis can work to the economic benefit of every participating business by turning costly waste into valuable resources, all while cutting carbon and reducing the environmental footprint of the products they make

CSI has been on a mission to help Washington leaders learn about sustainable infrastructure innovations like ‘industrial symbiosis’.  CSI partnered with i-SUSTAIN, funded by Scan Design Foundation, to bring a bipartisan group of Washington legislators (6 Rs and 6 Ds) to Scandinavia in September 2017. The goal was to spark imagination and excitement for the vision of Washington as world leader in helping communities of all sizes and sorts, in all parts of the state to innovate and prosper in clean manufacturing and sustainable infrastructure.

It sparked – there’s been an incredible interest and excitement to make something happen in Washington. Now, with the support of the bipartisan coalition of influential legislators from CSI’s 2017 Scandinavia delegation, Rep. Beth Doglio and Sen. Sharon Brown introduced bipartisan legislation this session to begin moving forward and creating a platform for Washington State to become a national leader in industrial symbiosis.

We think Washington innovators can take the industrial symbiosis idea further: what if innovators can maximize local renewable energy and organic waste resources but also address the recycling crisis? There’s an incredible opportunity for Washington innovators to bring new production here in Washington that embraces much of the huge stream of recyclables that for three decades we’ve shipped to China – until their National Sword policy shut the door.

Why are we so confident?   We’re already seeing how this might work in places like Port Angeles.

McKinley, and its parent company,  BioPappel, a globally-recognized sustainable paper company, are retooling a 98-year-old Port Angeles factory to manufacture 250,000 tons/year of container board from recycled cardboard - with plans to open in late 2019.  They will not only produce 100% recycled paperboard manufactured from waste paper, but they're looking to also develop biomass energy cogeneration with waste steam used in the papermaking process.  This is exactly the kind of business ‘anchor’ that can support and tie-into other waste-resource matchmaking that could provide opportunities for other businesses to come aboard.

But, Port Angeles is just one example.

We’ve been building industrial symbiosis partnership opportunities with communities on the Westside and Eastside, speaking with potential partners in Spokane, Kennewick, Raymond and several others.  City leaders, businesses, tribes, universities and other research organizations are ready to find ways to work together and are already recognizing opportunities that could evolve. They are coming to the table with innovative ideas that we believe will position Washington State as a world leader to innovate and prosper in clean manufacturing and sustainable infrastructure.

Here's to Washington dreamers and  innovators!

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