What is industrial symbiosis?

Industrial symbiosis is an association between two or more industrial facilities or companies in which the wastes or byproducts of one become the raw materials for another.

Industrial symbiosis can help companies:

  • Reduce raw material and waste disposal costs
  • Earn new revenue from residues and byproducts
  • Divert waste from landfill and reduce carbon emissions
  • Open up new business opportunities

As in the natural world, this type of industrial synergy brings advantages to both parties, and is usually done for both commercial and environmental reasons.

Industrial symbiosis involves a collective approach to competitive advantage through the physical exchange of materials, energy, water and/or byproducts, or the shared use of assets, logistics and expertise.

Tyre shred, plastic pellets or waste steam from a factory are examples of outputs that can be sold on to other businesses.  

The companies involved may be close together or far apart, producing the same things or completely different ones, and the resources they share may consist of materials, energy or water.

Distance no barrier

It used to be thought that for industrial symbiosis to work effectively the companies involved had to be close together. This is no longer the case; although it may not be the best environmental option to transport low value/grade materials and heat over large distances, higher value synergies have no such restrictions.

What all synergies have in common is that they reduce costs and generate new sales for the companies involved, as well as creating significant environmental benefits such as reduced landfill and greenhouse gases. The economic activity generated also has further social benefits with the creation of new businesses and jobs.

Find out how to join the network of companies already committed to industrial symbiosis