December 15, 2003


Recycling Waste That Washes Up Against Dams: Kanden L-Farm: Co-Existence, Co-Growth

* This article is under copyright protection.

Manabu Akaike
Universal Design Intelligence Inc.

Community-Oriented Environmentally Friendly Recycling System

In January 2000 a waste management company called Kanden L-Farm (Kansai Electric) came to life in Toyama Prefecture with hopes of facilitating the natural wood resource cycle by recycling the logs and plant matter that drift in dam waters and wash up against their walls into agricultural materials.

Kansai Electric (Kanden) has 17 high dams in its Hokuriku branch district. According to a 1998 study, about 3,400 tons of rubbish wash into these dams every year. In past years, this rubbish mainly consisted of burnable trash, but there is more trash every year and handling costs have become prohibitive. Behind the increase in trash has been a standstill in forest preservation efforts caused by the decrease in the number of forestry workers. Also, the hydroelectric plants that used to have close ties to the local community employing a large number of people are now largely unmanned due to advances in operational efficiency,so that contact between the plants and the community is disappearing. Kanden's response was to establish an environmentally friendly recycling system which uses washed-up logs and wood disposed of through forest thinning processes to produce livestock bedding and soil improvement agents, thereby restoring these unused natural wood resources to the local farmers in a "bio-region" based system.

The mechanism for recycling natural resources begins with collecting the trash that washes into the dams, separating it into logs, brush and branches, and household trash. Next, the household trash is burned or otherwise disposed of, the log drift is made into sawdust and the plant matter is made into chips. These materials are used to make the L-Wood livestock and domestic animal bedding, L-Chip compost material, and L-Compo which is a composted mix of the two materials and is used as a soil improvement agent, all for the benefit of the local farmers and gardening enthusiasts that populate this watershed area. Used L-Wood is also mixed into the L-Compo for a double recycling effect. The addition of high quality manure produced by the dairy farmers of Toyama Prefecture to L-Compo results in a rich cultured soil product. L-Farm is developing a truly regionally oriented business.

As a waste management company, L-Farm also evaluates its plant and equipment on an environmental basis, practicing noise, vibration, odor and dust emission control. Another unique characteristic of the company is its ownership of an independent farm where it produces organic vegetables. L-Farm uses its own products to enrich the soil of its farm, practicing safety and kindness to the environment through the concept of returning wood materials to the soil.

Recycling Industrial Waste to Make Unfired Brick Blocks

The concept behind the development of Kanden L-Farm is co-existence with nature and co-growth with the region.

April 2001 saw the first stirrings of another recycling venture under the co-existence, co-growth banner. A factory was built in Hyogo Prefecture's Himeji City with the objective of recycling industrial waste, using kiln residue, sewage sludge, incinerator ash and broken glass to make unfired bricks (trade name Earthen Bricks).

These unfired brick blocks were originally developed by Kamei Ceramics of Gifu Prefecture in 1997. This region has grown over the years to support the majority of ceramic tile makers in Japan. Areas devoted to the production of fired goods like ceramics suffer from environmental issues such as rivers turning cloudy from soil runoff caused by using the river flow to quarry the clay for firing. From its concern for the environment, Kamei Ceramics pursued research into uses for kiln residue, finally arriving at a commercial application in these unfired brick blocks. The production technology that relies on a non-firing process allows for the use of a wide variety of recycled industrial waste including the aforementioned sludge, broken bits of glass ceramics, blast furnace scrag and coal ash. The unfired material also has added value in that it does not give off carbon dioxide emissions. Earthen bricks have been used in many places including private gardens, as walkways in parks and as construction material in schools and hospitals.

The Kansai Electric Group, or Kanden Group, became aware of this product and began studying how to fully commercialize it in the year 2000, with the main objective of recycling the dam sludge, sea shells and construction waste generated by its hydroelectric plants. After the recycling of the floating lumber and logs that collect on the surface of dam waters, Kanden wanted to find a way to make new resources out of the soil and sludge that collect under the surface.

More stringent recycling laws have brought about steady progress in the reuse of industrial waste. But, there are still many waste materials that have no useful place. How can an industry handle the waste that it generates in a manner that is considerate of the environment? How should it be recycled, and how can its value be restored to the local community? Kansai Electric shows great foresight in its start at developing businesses that answer these needs from the point of view of the local river and groundwater systems. The efforts of this company to reverse the outflow of our natural resources by using its network of water system municipal corporations originally created to build and operate dams should be applauded.

JAPAN CLOSE-UP, May 2002, published by PHP

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