From Garbage to Gold: a workshop with NISP Canada

An interview with SPARK facilitator, Timo Makinen

Is your trash someone else’s treasure? SPARK 2019: Carbon Positive programming includes an interactive, circular economy-based match-making workshop designed and facilitated by the Canadian National Industrial Symbiosis Program (NISP® Canada). The NISP® concept has been successfully used in over 30 countries and has been piloted in Western Canada since 2017.

Timo Makinen, Director of Operations for NISP® Canada, will lead the workshop. He is a professional chemical engineer with over 30 years of experience in the energy, environment, and sustainable development space, having worked with BC Hydro, BC Gas, Shell Canada Oil Sands, and Royal Dutch Shell.

We spoke with Timo to learn about industrial symbiosis and what workshop participants can expect.

What can you tell us about NISP?

It’s about creating symbiotic relationships between businesses and promoting circular economy thinking. Ultimately, it’s an initiative that connects business operators and other organizations—like universities and colleges—that want to find higher value uses for their waste streams, ideally converting them into valuable resources. Compared to conventional resource usage approaches, industrial symbiosis is better for the environment, supports job creation and retention, opens up new lines of business, and leads to less emissions and reduced landfill volumes.

Can you describe what a workshop looks like?

We host sessions that run kind of like speed dating. Typically, businesses attend a half-day workshop and trade cards that they have completed, outlining their particular resource “wants” and “haves.” Participants describe the resources they have that are unwanted, or resources they are seeking, and matches are made. Materials can include wood, plastic, food waste, metal scrap, and more. Water and energy resources, such as waste heat, are on the table. Other physical or operations-based matches are also possible; shared lab space, research facilities, utilities, warehousing, and transport. We’ve found our “pen and paper” approach creates much more interaction between participants than using an electronic data entry format of some type.

What is industrial symbiosis? 

Industrial symbiosis is based on the re-thinking of “waste” by establishing mutually beneficial business relationships. So, it’s not just about the environment, but it’s also about the economy. The process moves resources up the waste hierarchy, from disposing through recycle, reuse and reduce to remove. The higher the level, the greater the cost savings, the greater the value to the economy, the greater the environmental benefits. Through NISP®, only things that make business sense are implemented.

Where did the idea come from? Where has it been successful so far?

While not a well-known term, compared to the “circular economy” or “industry ecology,” it has been used for many years around the planet. Over the past decade, industrial symbiosis has led to significant environmental, economic, and social benefits in more than 30 countries around the globe, including the UK, Netherlands, South Africa, China, Brazil, Turkey, Romania, and Australia. This redirection and repurposing of waste can result in reduced waste volumes, improved resource efficiency, new lines of business, reduced transportation and disposal costs, reduced emissions, and other benefits. As an example, over a 5-year period, NISP® England supported the reduction of 39 million tonnes of CO2 and diverted 45 million tonnes of landfill in that time.

Where has NISP Canada focused its efforts?

Our Phase I efforts focused on two regions: Metro Vancouver and Greater Edmonton. Six workshops were held in each region over the past 18 months. The 12 workshops combined attracted over 350 participants and 3,500 resource matches were made. And, to-date, more than 100 new partnerships have been made, among a wide variety of industries. Results include a biomass inventory for both regions; demolition waste re-purposed into conference displays; various waste types used to supplant fossil fuel use in cement kilns; and the collection and refurbishment of hundreds of wood pallets, preventing them from ending up in landfill. Moving forward, NISP® Canada has received support to expand our efforts onto Vancouver Island and Calgary. We look forward to continuing our efforts in our pilot regions as well, so it’s great to be on the agenda of SPARK this year, in Edmonton.