December 31, 2003



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.16 (December 2003)

"Zero emissions" is a concept the United Nations University has been advocating since 1994 as its research strategy (UNU/ZERI: Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives), to achieve sustainable development set out in Agenda 21, an action plan adopted at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The basic idea of zero emissions is to build an economic society that generates no waste, through the collaboration of different industries and companies. It is modeled on an ecosystem in which all living things are interconnected with each other through the food chain, leaving behind no waste; for example, the waste and remains of one organism provide nutrients and energy to other organisms. Similarly, the aim of the zero emissions concept is to establish a new industrial chain to utilize waste and by-products from one industry or company as resources for another industry, thereby reducing waste to zero.

The concept of "zero emissions" was originally introduced to Japan and the world as a broad concept for creating a sustainable economy through the clustering of industries. But subsequently, a series of unique efforts toward zero emissions have developed among companies and municipalities nationwide in Japan. The following are some of the activities implemented under the slogan of zero emissions, with various modifications of the UNU's original concept.

A search using the key words "zero emissions" at the website shows more than 20 Japanese books that have "zero emissions" in their titles, such as "Green chemistry and zero emissions," "How to build zero-emission factories," "Toyota's challenge for zero emissions," "Aquaculture and zero emissions," "Zero emissions: Recycling-oriented community building to generate no waste," "Zero emissions from food," and "Zero emissions in construction Q&A." Evidently, the zero-emissions approach is used in a wide range of industries, in individual companies, and in municipalities trying to vitalize their local economies.

As a growing shortage of landfill sites became apparent, especially for industrial waste, and waste disposal costs increased, many manufacturers were motivated to find ways to create zero-waste factories--that is factories that generate no waste needing to be landfilled.

Some companies declare that their factories have achieved "zero emissions" because they do not send any waste to the landfill. But strictly speaking, generating "zero waste," is not the same as "zero emissions."

In a zero-waste factory, waste is sorted and carried off-site, supposedly for recycling. On the other hand, a zero-emission factory must not only have its waste carried off-site as potential resources, but also clarify how other companies use the resources within an industrial cluster. Just like an organism in an ecosystem, one entity alone cannot establish zero emissions.

A company also needs to change its design and manufacturing processes to eliminate waste. In addition to reducing waste at the end of the production line, increasing resource productivity is an important zero-emission activity, namely, optimizing the use of energy and materials "upstream" during the raw material procurement and manufacturing processes. Zero emissions is thus an approach that permeates the entire supply chain and involves collaboration with other companies and economic entities.

In the October 2002 issue of the JFS Newsletter we introduced the activities of Asahi Breweries to illustrate the manufacturer's efforts toward zero emissions. Asahi Breweries produces and sells beer as well as various types of liquor, juice and soda beverages, as the eleventh-largest beer company in the world. The company achieved 100 percent waste recycling at its plants in November 1998. This means that no waste from its manufacturing processes is sent to landfills. All waste is recycled and reused as a resource.

According to the company's Eco Report 2002, approximately 370,000 tons of byproducts and waste were generated from manufacturing processes of regular and low-malt beers during the year. About 80 percent of waste consists of malt feed (malt husk) generated from the feeding process. About 10 percent is sludge and screen residue in the waste water treatment process, and about 7 percent is glass waste, including bottles.

Malt husk, the largest quantity byproduct generated in production processes, is now used as feed for cattle, and research for other uses is now underway. Sludge and screen residue are used as organic fertilizer and compounds, and glass waste is used as a raw material for bottles or building materials. Surplus yeast generated in the fermentation process is used as a raw material for pharmaceutical and processed food products produced by Asahi Food and Health Care, one of the group companies.

Asahi Breweries lists three key points to achieve 100 percent recycling of waste: (1) Thorough separation of waste makes any waste item recyclable. (2) All employees must understand that waste separation is part of the job. (3) It is imperative to check the final disposal situation. (On the last point, once a year, Asahi Breweries personnel go to the sites of each company that has been subcontracted to recycle their waste, in order to check and confirm the actual situation of recycling.)

As is apparent from many companies' environmental reports containing pages on "efforts toward zero emissions," efforts have been devoted to "zero waste and 100 percent recycling" as their slogan among companies and factories across Japan, regardless of the industry.

Seiko Epson Corporation has adopted a step-by-step approach by setting up two levels in its efforts toward zero emissions since 1997. Level 1 seeks 100 percent waste recycling by putting all business waste in the recycling-bound channel. After in-house sorting (including crushing and compressing), waste fluid treatment and other processes, waste is sent to intermediate processors and recycling companies with specialized technologies. For fiscal 2002, Level 1 has already been achieved domestically.

At an overseas site, Epson Industrial (Taiwan) Corp. is recycling the sludge generated from rinsewater used for etching transparent electrodes on LCD panels. The sludge is sold to a fertilizer manufacturer and recycled as fertilizer.

Level 1 also requires the company to reduce combustible waste such as plastic packaging, food wrappers and the like to below 50 grams per person per day. In fiscal 2002, the average generation of combustible waste was 37 grams per person per day at business sites in Japan. In fiscal 1997, it was estimated at approximately 500 grams per person per day.

Seiko Epson's Level 2 aims at reducing the total volume of waste and achieving more sophisticated recycling. They try to achieve this mainly by minimizing resource inputs, thus reducing waste through manufacturing process reforms and improvement of reuse within the company. For waste that cannot be avoided, they are seeking more sophisticated recycling processes to fully utilize the waste.

For example, the company is reusing various solutions used in production processes or applying them as flocculants or neutralizing agents, and thus encouraging internal reuse of materials to reduce waste generation. The materials that the company cannot recycle in-house are recycled by other companies, and it purchases recycled products as much as possible.

Materials sent out to these vendors are included in the company's total waste generation. However, Seiko Epson views the purchasing of recycled products made from the company's waste as part of its waste reduction efforts. In fiscal 2002, the company sent approximately 650 tons of solvents to recycling companies and purchased back and used 90 tons of recycled products.

To meet the company's goal of reducing the combined total of waste generation and recycled materials in Japan to the fiscal 1997 level, or 14,000 tons, it will continue improving Level 1 activities and promoting Level 2 activities, as well as establishing technology to minimize the generation of waste.

Another innovative case of the zero emissions initiative is seen at the Kokubo industrial complex (24 companies) in Yamanashi Prefecture. Without its own disposal site, Yamanashi had long depended on other prefectures for disposing industrial waste. Sharing the same sense of crisis that such a situation may hurt future manufacturing activities, private businesses in the complex established in 1992 an industrial waste research group that serves as a main body promoting zero emission activities.

The group keeps track of each company's annual data on the quantity and cost of industrial waste disposal, and has been making efforts based on the following four basic principles.
1) Each company voluntarily reduces its industrial waste (in conjunction with efforts to acquire and maintain ISO 14001 certification).
2) Reuse or recycle industrial waste that cannot be eliminated.
3) Reduce non-reusable or non-recyclable industrial waste by intermediate treatment such as neutralizing, etc.
4) Create a recycling system, recognizing the need to reuse and recycle industrial waste within the industrial complex.

In the complex, companies purchase toilet paper made from recycled paper waste collected from 23 firms. They also make refuse derived fuel (RDF) from plastic waste and wood chips and use the material at a cement plant as fuel. Kitchen waste from company cafeterias is also collectively recovered and composted as fertilizer for farmers, and companies buy back organic farm products. Collectors of used paper also set up a plant to create molded products from paper pulp, and companies purchase them as packing and buffer material.

These companies have created a recycling system where their own waste is reused as a resource at every possible level. The system has thus reduced the cost of waste disposal, becoming an engine for the advancement of zero-emission activities.

The Japanese government has also formulated policies and measures to promote zero emission activities. Examples include the "Eco town" program started in 1996 by the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry; the "Zero-emission industrial complex" program by the Japan Environment Corporation; a semi-public company affiliated with the former Environment Agency; the "Zero emission road" by the former Construction Ministry; and "Coastal recycle complex vision research" by the former Transport Ministry. (Japan's ministries were reorganized and some of their names changed in January 2001.)

In particular, the "Eco town" program, launched to aid zero emission initiatives (now jointly implemented by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of the Environment after the reorganization of ministries) has contributed to the expansion of zero-emission activities across the country.

Prefectural governments and the 13 largest cities can receive state support when their eco town plans are approved by the central government. So far, over ten communities have received the government approval. Behind local communities' efforts to achieve zero emissions are rising concerns about environmental issues, particularly serious waste problems (for example, as mentioned, the construction of new waste disposal sites has become increasingly difficult due to citizens' concern about dioxin pollution), as well as their desire to revitalize regional economies.

The United Nations University has also set up the Zero Emissions Forum to achieve systems for a sustainable industrial society.

The forum has published a booklet in Japanese titled the "Zero Emission Manual (Ver.1)--for the Realization of Zero Emissions Based Regional Society" (published by Kaizosha), a manual to promote zero emission activities. The English version of the booklet will be available soon and we will let you know when it has been published.