The eco-industrial park concept relates to industrial ecology, a field developed at the beginning of the 1990s by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The concept recognises that industrial collaboration yields better economic, environmental, and social performance than industries acting independently (Veiga et al., 2004). The concept aims to create in a common property a community of manufacturing and service businesses that can collaborate on managing environmental issues in a resource-efficient way. Japan, China, and Singapore have been at the forefront of developing the eco-industrial park concept, inspiring other ASEAN countries.

1. Kitakyushu Eco-Town

Kitakyushu’s industries led modernisation in Japan (Sato, 2009). In 1997, Kitakyushu launched an initiative to transition from an industrial city with controlled pollution to a green city with a strong focus on the promotion of environmental industry and sustainability and which considers environmental, healthcare, and economic approaches (Shiroyama and Kajiki, 2016). Kitakyushu’s efforts were inspired by the national initiative of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). On 10 July 1997, the Kitakyushu Eco-Town project was approved together with similar projects in Gifu Prefecture, Iida City, and Kawasaki Municipality, and followed by projects in 22 areas across Japan (Fujita, 2008). The projects are a direct result of the Act on the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging (Act No. 112 of 16 June 1995), the Act on Recycling of Specified Home Appliances (Act No. 97 of 5 June 1998), and subsequent regulations.

The Kitakyushu Eco-Town programmes deal with issues using a holistic approach that integrates academic research, technology-based experimental study, and commercialisation (Fujita, 2008Sato, 2009). To support commercialisation, Kitakyushu utilises collaborations amongst the General Environment Complex, the Habiki Recycling Area, the Habikinada East Area, and other areas. The government aims to circularly trade waste that can be recycled as raw materials. Figure 1 illustrates the complete collaboration. For instance, in the General Environment Complex, the Nishinihon Consumer Electronics Recycle Co., Ltd. recycles home appliances.  Although the company can purchase raw materials from the office equipment and edible oil recycling industries, it focuses on disassembling and sorting discarded electric household appliances such as televisions, freezers, air conditioners, and washing machines, as  required by the Act on Recycling of Specified Home Appliances (Act No. 97 of 5 June 1998). The sorted parts are then broken down into iron, aluminium, copper, plastic, and other materials, which are supplied to enterprises that recycle cans, sludge, used paper, containers, and packaging materials. Through such collaboration, companies gain certainty about the supply of raw materials and the demand for their recycled products.

Figure 1. Collaboration Amongst Industries in Kitakyushu Eco-Town

Source: Government of Kitakyushu (2018).

The Kitakyushu Eco-Town programmes are primarily motivated by town planning and community development and engagement factors (Van Berkel et al., 2009). As a result, the programmes involve the local government and local community to strengthen their sense of belonging to the town, which raises environmental awareness. The programmes are highly driven by environmental remediation factors (Van Berkel et al., 2009). Realising the existence of environmental black spots, the local government has been encouraged to take responsibility for improving the quality of life of the local community. Such an advanced level of adoption has led the Kitakyushu Eco-Town to be recognised worldwide (Fujita, 2008).

To disperse such good practice locally and globally, the Kitakyushu Eco-Town Center and the Next Generation Energy Park were developed, arising from technology-based experimental studies. The Kitakyushu Eco-Town Center offers inspection tours and visits to demonstrate recycling practices. At the Next Generation Energy Park, visitors can observe various next-generation energy sources, inter-company cooperation, and innovative technology research (Government of Kitakyushu, 2018). These efforts are supported by the government in collaboration with academia and business. Academia provides an atmosphere conducive to basic research while business aids practical research and incubation of local enterprises.

Kawasaki Eco-Town has a similar effort: it plans to create a model town where industry and environment coexist in harmony. The government enforces four basic policies: require companies to become eco-friendly, require companies to collaborate to become eco-friendly on-site, conduct research on the sustainable development of coastal areas, and contribute to international communication (Government of Kawasaki, 2020). The main recycling facilities at the Kawasaki Eco-Town convert waste plastics into products such as blast furnaces, concrete setting frames, ammonia, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Through collaboration, recycling enterprises receive waste plastics in amounts that keep their business alive and profitable. Tokyo emulated such efforts through the Super Eco-Town project, proposed in 2001, which aims for urban revitalisation, especially in seaside areas of the prefecture. To support this project, the government has secured the necessary government-owned land and allocated it to the development of facilities related to waste treatment and recycling (Government of Tokyo, 2019). The government is responsible for deciding the type of facilities for the project and which companies will operate them. The government is promoting the project to raise awareness amongst companies. Qualified and selected companies will acquire government land and raise funds and ensure business feasibility (Government of Tokyo, 2019).

2. China’s Eco-Industrial Park

China has also been at the forefront of utilising eco-industrial parks, which are classified into (1) sector-integrated groups (multisector industrial parks), (2) venous groups (resource-recovery or secondary-material industrial parks), and (3) sector-specific groups (primarily industrial parks with one main sector or correlated sectors) (Huang et al., 2019).  By the end of 2015, 126 national eco-industrial parks demonstration plans were being endorsed, consisting of 109 sector-integrated parks, 14 sector-specific parks, and 3 venous parks (Huang et al., 2019).

The eco-industrial parks are operated under the national standard of HJ 274-2015 (Standard for National Demonstration Eco-Industrial Parks), which  has been revised several times since it was issued in 2006. The standard includes 32 evaluation indicators for national eco-industrial parks grouped into economic development, industrial symbiosis, resource conservation, environmental protection, and information disclosure. The latest version of HJ 274-2015 has been improved greatly by applying ‘three-in-one’ (three classifications of eco-industrial parks) standard, supplementing industrial symbiosis criteria, involving environmental risk control indicators, covering more environmental indicators, and providing optional indicators (Huang et al., 2019).

Aside from administrating eco-industrial parks through the Ministry of Environmental Protection (now the Ministry of Ecology and Environment), China is transforming industrial park recycling entities into those similar to eco-industrial parks and agriculture-based parks. Led by the National Development and Reform Commission, the initiative’s main purpose is to transform industrial parks that consume much resources and energy into high-resource utilisation and low-pollution entities (Wen et al., 2018). The initiative was one of the 10 major nationwide demonstration programmes of circular economy proposed in the ‘10-100-1000’ action plan of the 12th Five-Year Plan for Circular Economy Development issued by the State Council in 2012 (Wen et al., 2018). By 2017, 129 industrial parks had been approved for transformation (Wen et al., 2018). The initiative was highlighted as the key to enhancing circular development in China. Still needed, however, are financial incentives for environmentally sound products as well as related research and technological support, and transition to a model led by both government and the market to attract more investments (Wen et al., 2018).

To support the eco-industrial park concept, China’s local governments facilitate symbiosis amongst industries by subsidising and operationalising shared facilities for managing the disposal of recyclables or other wastes (Thieriot and Sawyer, 2015). In Yinchuan, shared compactors and cutting machines are available at recyclable waste markets. Certain areas have solar-powered waste compactors – waste bins that send a signal whenever they are full to alert collectors to pick up the waste (Hanly, 2017). Beijing has a weighing scale for joint use in shops that collect electronic and motor vehicle components. In Suzhou, most enterprises prefer to outsource their waste management to a single company that charges them a disposal fee (Mo et al., 2009). Since most enterprises just produce consumer products, collecting and recycling industries are still lacking. To fill the gap, the government of Tianjin has aggressively increased the number of collecting and recycling enterprises. A case study of the Tianjin Economic-technological Development Area (TEDA) shows that industrial symbiosis is encouraged through internet-based information sharing by the local government through TEDA (Geng et al., 2007). The TEDA website allows enterprises to confidentially upload their waste statistics to the public database. Waste collection and recycling are then facilitated through the website for a reasonable fee. An example of such symbiosis in TEDA is that between a landscape company and Novozymes, a Danish biotechnology company. The landscape company utilises biological sludge from Novozymes and organic waste from local industries and communities to produce organic fertilizer for landscaping (Geng et al., 2007).

The government attracts collecting and recycling industries by investing in a central sorting and recycling system, thus adding value and minimising transportation costs. The system serves as a transfer station to sort and recycle waste such as glass, plastic, and paper. The system includes transforming waste into a new resource, marketing products from recycled waste, and storing large amounts of valuable but unreclaimable waste such as waste batteries (Geng et al., 2007). The government encourages industries to treat their wastewater or be charged RMB1/tonne for sewage disposal. The government has invested in a centralised wastewater treatment plant to maintain the water circularity of the eco-industrial park (Yu et al., 2014). Utilising reverse osmosis and continuous micro-filtration technologies, a new water source plant was built to supply high-purity recycled water. Figure 2 illustrates the overall TEDA water circularity.

Figure 2. TEDA Water Circularity

Source: Yu et al. (2014).

3. Sarimbun Recycling Park

The Sarimbun Recycling Park (formerly part of the Lim Chu Kang dumping ground), leased by 13 recycling companies, contributes 25% of total waste recycled in Singapore (NEA, 2020). Faced with scarce land, the Government of Singapore is planning to promote recycling collaboration under one roof through a multi-storey recycling facility in Sarimbun Recycling Park. Before construction, however, soil stability and strength and other feasibility indicators  should first be assessed. Such collaboration would reduce transportation costs and incorporate recycling and other common facilities. According to the senior executive for marketing of Cimelia Resource Recovery, such collaboration can eliminate logistics cost, which is 20% of total costs (Jianyue, 2014). The business development manager of Eveready Manufacturing supports the idea of consolidated facilities, including electricity and water supply (Chua, 2014).

4. ‘Export’ of Resource-Recycling City

Such cooperation continues to address the same challenge in other ASEAN+3 countries. For instance, Japan ‘exports’ its experiences in developing resource-recycling cities through similar cooperation with ASEAN+3 countries. Japan cooperates with Surabaya City (Indonesia), Phnom Penh City (Cambodia), Hai Phong City (Viet Nam), and Rayong Province (Thailand) (Umemoto, 2012).

In Surabaya, cooperation has reduced household waste by 30% by involving more than 20,000 households in organic waste composting (Umemoto, 2012). Some initiatives are also undertaken through Japan International Cooperation Agency projects on effluent treatment systems, drinking water supply systems, waste treatment, and cogeneration and energy saving. In Phnom Penh, on-site technological guidance has led to the rapid improvement of water supply. Cooperation helps develop new water-based business by introducing the water block system in Hai Phong. Thailand intends to copy the success of Kitakyushu Eco-Town by developing an eco-industrial town that harmonises industries and communities in Rayong, which has many industrial factories along the eastern seaboard (Bangkok Post, 2013).

5. Gap in ASEAN Countries

Developing eco-industrial parks is important in creating a circular economy, which contributes to reducing leakage of plastic wastes into the ocean. Although some ASEAN countries have tried to copy Japan’s success in eco-town projects, a gap still exists between current policies, especially in supporting a circular economy through recycling industries. Industries have the responsibility for the end-of-life of their product but still lack policies for expanding and upgrading recycling, thus resulting in low participation rates. Emerging policies should bridge the gap between extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the recycling industry’s capacity. Shared facilities in eco-industrial parks in Japan and China have reduced cost and space used. Facilitating the development of eco-industrial parks will have a positive effect on the implementation of EPR policies and will further help countries achieve a circular economy.


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