Industrial Symbiosis in the days of COVID: the M3P digital platform


The need for adjustment and the choices forced by the current health emergency can join with Circular Economy policies and concrete cases of industrial symbiosis.

In recent years, European and national policies have highlighted the need to have increasingly widespread and permeable Circular Economy approaches to industrial and civil society. What was once a model to be disseminated, the Circular Economy, now becomes increasingly a necessity and an essential praxis for industrial supply chains. This need was born out of the needs to reduce the environmental impacts, now evident in many areas, and to reduce the waste of virgin raw materials no longer sustainable in the medium and long term.

The Circular Economy is based on the concept of creating a virtuous circle between the actors of a supply chain that rotates on itself generating a continuous reuse and design of raw materials, waste and products.

This circular supply chain is something that, in the field of Industrial Symbiosis, applies in well delimited geographical areas and, normally, identified with Industrial Districts. All these theories have developed with concrete cases at national and international level in recent years. With regard to Italy, the drive to have organic products and with specific quality brands has spread circular economy policies, especially in the agricultural sector. For example, the case of Grapes whose agro-industrial process has been revised to get to the recycling of all the materials used in the processing processes with zero waste.

In the industrial sector, there are local examples in particular Industrial Districts where Industrial Symbiosis principles has been applied. Instead, the framework of the European economy of SMEs doesn’t allow for a rapid transformation towards these new models due to the size of the company and the associated difficulties of fast renewal and/or innovation.

The current pandemic situation has dramatically brought to light the problem of long chains of production of goods that are spread over multiple countries and/or continents. The case of the masks is widely known in its drama.  In the early stages of the pandemic, the lockdown of the various countries has disrupted the production chains of many goods. Would a spread model of Circular Economy through the application of Industrial Symbiosis in restricted geographic areas avoid some interruptions of industrial production? The answer is yes! In fact, all countries have activated industrial conversions to produce in short supply chains the necessary products during the first phase of the pandemic: masks, gloves, gowns, etc.

These conversions, when implemented in a Circular Economy perspective, will produce stable benefits with locally sustainable supply chains. You need to find information about technologies, waste present in the territory, potential new applications etc to get to this. This can be supported by the M3P platform developed under the LIFE M3P project, which has been finished successful under the coordination of Centrocot. In addition to the constantly updated M3P database of information on waste, companies and technologies, there are the results of the analyzed pilot cases. The main environmental data obtained with pilot cases are a potential reduction of around 141 thousand tons of waste, that are saved by landfills each year; about 138,000 tons of CO2  not released into the air; about 197,000 tons of not used virgin raw material, about 239,000 cubic meters of water saved. Suggestive data related to performed LCA analyses and projections at Industrial District level.

It is estimated that the increase in waste management costs in Italy for industry may have exceeded 40% in the last two years and that this increase corresponds, for the manufacturing industry alone, to an increase in costs of 1.3 billion euros each year.[1] The environmental impact data is complemented by a significant economic impact! The M3P platform has also assessed in some situations the economic valorization of industrial waste. In one specific investigated case, revenues were assessed at full capability for about 1 million euros in micro-craftsmen in the chain of decorative cards resulting from the reuse of textile waste as secondary raw material.

From all this, it is clear that the Industrial Symbiosis has an increasingly concrete economic sustainability in addition to the undoubted environmental benefits. The ongoing pandemic has conditioned and accelerated some of these transformations by converting long supply chains into shorter supply chains with application of Circular Economy models instead of linear. The actual very strong drive to change traditional economic models forces people to seek new roads by new information and solutions.

The M3P Platform has proven to be capable of generating this meeting between information needs, waste availability and recycling technologies. The use and the spread of this instrument will be able to helping SMEs to find new solutions and new markets through the  Industrial Symbiosis application with digital and internet approach.







For information:

Dr. Ir. Claudio D. Brugnoni, Executive Consultant CentroCot S.p.A.,

Ir. Roberto Vannucci, Multi-sector R&IArea,

Author: Claudio Brugnoni

Executive Consultant