What is the role of policy in increasing the uptake of industrial symbiosis? SCALER met with Dr Yuan Tao, Research associate at the University of Cambridge, to discuss different policy approaches for industrial symbiosis in the UK and China.

How can policy be a driver for industrial symbiosis?
Policy could foster the uptake of industrial symbiosis by motivating more resources exchanges between companies. Governmental institutions could contribute to shaping the context underlying industrial symbiosis development, by setting clear objectives and supporting business eco-efficiency activities, penalising lower hierarchy waste management options (e.g. landfill and incineration), and providing information and facilitation assistance for companies to identify economically viable alternatives for their waste.

Is current policy up to the task? If not, how does it need to evolve?
In practice, different policy theories could lead to a different level of success in industrial symbiosis implementation at national level. As an example, the UK follows a ‘bottom-up’ approach, whereas China follows a ‘top- down’ dominated approach.

For countries who apply a ‘bottom-up’ approach like UK, guidance regarding resource efficiency is generally seen as too general to actually provide help. Hence, collecting tangible cases of ‘best practices’ in every sector and turning them into industrial guidelines may be more useful. For countries who apply a ‘top-down’ approach like China, economic duty such as landfill tax is uncommon, even though it worked very well in financially incentivising firms to implement industrial symbiosis in the UK.

What are the main differences in policy from UK and China?
In China, industrial symbiosis activities are being implemented through the country’s pursuit of a circular economy. Along with the enforcement of the ‘Circular Economy Promotion Law’ in 2009, industrial symbiosis theories are applied into practice via a “top-down approach” where the national and provincial governments plan the agricultural, industrial, service, and other sectors. Although many eco-industrial parks have been successfully implemented, industrial symbiosis activities are still in the pilot stage in China. Apart from the lack of innovation flexibility surrounding the ‘top-down’ approach, in practice, industrial symbiosis principles have been difficult to enforce, as there is little understanding at the local level, and there are insufficient guidelines on how these principles can be applied. However in the UK, where there is a lack of macroeconomic regulation and control, the exchange pattern in industrial symbiosis may take years or even decades to mature.

Dr Yuan Tao is a research associate at the Centre for Industrial Sustainability, Institute for Manufacturing, at the University of Cambridge. She is currently working on exploring best practices and enabling technologies for industrial symbiosis.