Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

How Human Affect the Environment

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Throughout history we have used the Earths resources to fulfill our needs without thinking of the implications of this abuse. As a result, we are left with few resources and enormous amounts of waste. In order to stop this shortage of materials and this excess of garbage, numerous recycling ideas have been proposed. However, a new idea known as Industrial Ecology could revolutionize the awareness of recycling by placing human activities in a full-life cycle in which reuse can be profitable.

The concept of industrial ecology should be considered as a change in the way industries manufacture products by thinking of the products life p as much larger and more profitable. This major change can be integrated effectively into many industries; the auto industry is a significant example. The supply of metals used in cars is running out, and their disposal results in hazardous materials, not to mention excess garbage that goes into landfills. The reusing and recycling of auto parts can cause a significant decrease in the industrys expenses. This idea seems very appealing. However, experts point out that there are several obstacles that stop the process and make it very difficult to implement.

These obstacles include organizational, technical, economic, informative, regulatory and legal barriers that are enforced in the auto as well as other industries. However, there are ways of overcoming this obstacles and in fact, there is much to be gained in implementing these ecological policies in industrial settings, as proven by several examples such as containers and one- use cameras.

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Theoretically, Industrial Ecology provides the ideal solution to waste control and profit increase, but the barriers form a challenge for the implementation in the large-scale. In order to achieve these reorganization processes there must be an effort done by government, consumers and manufacturers. If manufacturers and engineers were to consider the barriers beforehand and implement industrial ecology, car manufacturers could give back to the environment and at the same time increase profit.

When taking a closer look at Industrial Ecology we understand that this concept should all together change the way of recycling goods by making companies take responsibility for the disassembly and reproduction of their products after their usage, making each industry take awareness of resources abuse. The main idea is to focus on the environment to obtain full usage of resources. As Robert Frosch mentions in one of his article on the subject, this implies analyzing production in a kind of loop, in which products are generated thinking of their life p as almost endless (Industrial Ecology, 68).

When a product was not used anymore, reaching what has been considered the end of its useful life, Industrial Ecology would seek to bring the manufactured item to its foundation in order to use it for a different thing. Frosch also points out that Industrial Ecology works in a logical way: Waste is wasteful, and so anything in a company that is not used represents an unnecessary expenses and is wasted (IE of the 21st Century, 178). The implementation of this idea would put together the issues of caring for our environment with those of achieving high profit.

Currently, industries classified their products as either consumable or service products. Socolow describes consumable products as those whose use is short, and then are returned to the natural environment usually after only one use. Examples of these are soaps, detergents, and food. Services are those that provide a service over and over, for example televisions, computers, washers, dryers and containers. Industrial Ecology suggests that consumable goods should be biodegradable, so that their disposal doesnt affect the environment. The materials that make up service goods are not that important. Whats important is that these goods are disassembled when their useful life ends.

Socolow suggests that a way of implementing this idea would be for consumers to lease or put a refundable amount of money in service goods. The service products wouldnt actually belong to the consumer, but to the manufacturer. In this way, products would be returned to their manufacturer who would be responsible for disassembling and recycling the used product (Socolow et al, 333). Several usages for wastes can be thought beforehand by focusing on possible waste products before the design and production of a manufactured good.

In this way, at the end of the process, manufacturers wouldnt be left with the question of what to do with waste which will not bring any profit to the company and would have to be disposed of, creating more garbage. As Frosch mentions, the overall goal of industrial ecology is to implement planning and designing to close the loop and achieve near zero waste, helping in this way the environment and business (Industrial Ecology, 66).

As described above, this concept seems very abstract and theoretical. Nevertheless there are several examples of current usage of Industrial Ecology. For example, glasses and containers are recycled everyday. There are deposits that give money in exchange for glass, plastic or aluminum containers. As a result, United States recycling rate for bottles is around 40% (American Recycling Council, 1993). This is due mainly because the recycling of these containers is thought of before their actual production.

Another example is the single-use cameras from Kodak. The whole idea of one use cameras seems to be an abuse of resources, but Kodak effectively uses the recycling ideas behind Industrial Ecology to get the most out of the used cameras. When these cameras are taken to get their film developed (end of its useful life), Kodak gives a refund to returned used cameras. Because of this incentive, about 50% of these cameras are recycled, and 85% of the cameras parts are either reused or recycled into different parts.

Kodak environmental spokesman James Blamphin described this process as a financial success (Moscowitz, 13). Industries such as the car industry, would gain enormously from implementing these ideas. Thanks to technological advances that rapidly produce better and less expensive cars, old cars are not very attractive and so are usually disposed of very quickly.

There are ways in which Industrial Ecology is currently being applied to cars. According to Socolow, when a car is dismantled, 75% of its parts are recycled or reused. Reuse mainly refers to auto parts that are used by body shops. Parts such as batteries, wheels, bumpers, and other body pieces are either used as replacements or recycled into scrap steel. (See appendix 1 for detailed usage of car parts).

Recycling refers to the processing of ferrous and nonferrous metals to be remanufactured into durable goods such as washers and dryers and into raw material for iron and steel plants (Socolow et al. 343). When these materials are reused, steel is not thrown into waste yards, and energy is not wasted in producing more steel into the desired parts. Auto industries gain economically, and the environment is not harmed as much as if metal were extracted and produced all over again. These recycling policies used by car manufacturers could be considered a way of implementing Industrial Ecology, but still there is much to be done.

The remaining 25% of auto parts that are not recycled or reused as easily represents plastics, fluids, lubricants, rubber and glass. These materials are known as fluff and are disposed into landfills, adding up to about 2% of the total volume of these disposing facilities (Socolow et al.343). Advances in Industrial Ecology seek to find new ways of converting these materials into oil, gas and fillers for thermoplastics. (See appendix 2 for the life cycle of an automobile motor).

Since cars are service products, Industrial Ecology suggests that manufacturers should take care of used cars when their useful life is over. If they were to dismantle cars, auto industries could gain enormously by either selling parts to dealers, or by converting the used materials into industrial stock that could be use either for the same product or for something else.

Even though the auto industry, as well as other industries, would gain greatly from implementing the minimization of waste, there are several obstacles to doing so. These impediments are either caused by lack of communication either within companies, between companies, or between companies and the government. Moreover, there is also the question of lack of confidence in the recycling process, but this is mostly true of all new ideas. These barriers have to be overcome in some way or another, because in the long run Industrial Ecology should save the environment as well as firms own profit margins.

As Frosch comments, technical barriers are those limitations from products that have certain tramp element, which makes their handling unsafe or extremely challenging for some reason (65). This can be seen in the treatment of certain auto parts which involve chemicals that are considered hazardous. The idea is to try to eliminate or to form new ways of discarding these materials before the manufacturing process so that later on the problem of not knowing what to do with them doesnt arise.

Frosch also observes that another restriction in the re-usage of products is economic. At first glance, the cost of gathering and transferring used products for remanufacturing could seem high and unnecessary (66). Nevertheless, when seen in a larger scale, these expenses are worth it. Socolow uses an example dealing with car batteries.

In the case of lead-acid batteries from cars, about 80% are reused. This reuse rate is possible because manufacturers place core deposits which give about $5 for each returned battery. This cost-effective award encourages people to return used batteries, which otherwise would be thrown away (Socolow et al. 345). Battery manufacturers have managed the deposits and returns, and then transport the used batteries in order to recycle them. These expenses end up being profitable, but at first glance may not seem like it.

Miscommunication is also a big barrier in obtaining a full industrial ecologic atmosphere. According to Frosch, in certain firms, cost information is not known or easily obtained for everyone. This makes designers unaware of certain advantages in reusing or using recycled materials (66).

Even if designers are aware of the advantages, there is also a lack of communication among companies, which makes finding buyers for certain scrap materials almost impossible (67). Such lack of communication seems to be a huge barrier, which has to be overcome by better organization and communication within and between companies.

When it comes to organizational hazards, the main conflict is that most companies are used to the way they are run. Frosch points out that the implementation of a new environmental friendly procedure may seem very difficult, especially when replacing new materials with recycled and reused ones. If consumers are given the choice of buying new or recycled motor or body parts, they are usually likely to consider the new one as more reliable (67). This is a general attitude that must be changed by showing that recycled products can be as efficient as new ones. This would imply each person contributing to the reuse of resources.

The most troublesome of the restrictions are those that deal with regulatory and legal boundaries. Frosch comments that many well-meant laws are passed that lead to negative effects. The process of acquiring permits that enable legal disposing of products can end up being extremely troublesome and expensive. Ironically, the government, in its effort to control hazardous materials, ends up supporting disposal of used materials and usage of new resources (67,68).

A well-known example of legal barriers that the auto industry faces is that of corrosion coating. As Frosch explains, in order to get this coating, body parts are passed through a zinc phosphate shower. This leaves a sludge, which because of its zinc high properties, used to be taken to zinc smelters. The idea was to return zinc into industrial stock. Regulators started to consider the sludge as hazardous, which made it to difficult to process. The only other way to get rid of the zinc-rich material is to dump it, making the process more expensive to car manufacturers and creating unnecessary waste (180).

The most important thing to emphasize in recycling materials and minimizing waste is the importance of planning ahead. Designers and industrial engineers, at the beginning of the manufacturing process, should consider the implementation of industrial ecologys ideas. In this way, barriers could be more easily overcome and ways to handle the unnecessary materials could be achieved without harming the environment.

In order for the complete implementation of Industrial Ecology, the government should take action and re-aligned responsibility for producers to be encouraged to manufacture products with less environmental threat. Producers should take consideration of the long-term gain involved in enforcing Industrial Ecology and not only the short- term profit gains. Consumers have to open their minds and think of the advantages reusing products can bring, and encourage products to be recycled. These could be transition steps to get totally incorporated into a new way of manufacturing thinking of the implications of Earths resource usage.

Resources are not endless, and every material that is used could no longer exist if not recycled. It seems needless to mention that the more use a material has, the less expensive it is for manufacturers and the less pollution it creates. By enforcing Industrial Ecology, companies and firms can give back to the environment, providing a key role in the conservation of resources. What may be seen as a meaningless and profitable short-term innovation in a production scenario can end up contributing to the conservation of our environment.

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