Reusing Non-Hazardous Industrial Waste in the U.S.: A Geo-Specific Estimate of Quantities and Benefits

Project Overview

Nonhazardous industrial waste (NHIW), such as blast furnace slag, food processing waste, and wood pulping residue, results from production processes, and these secondary by-product materials can be, in most cases, a tangible substitute for primary raw materials. Life cycle studies demonstrate that NHIW reuse is a viable strategy for conserving natural resources and achieving substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Capturing the largest possible benefits of NHIW reuse, however, requires bringing together detailed knowledge of NHIW generation, NHIW reuse pathways, and system design at a high geospatial resolution. This systems level knowledge of NHIW has not been available previously in the United States, yet utilizing it would greatly enhance the nation’s resource recovery efforts. This project employs a novel, data-driven approach to quantify the extent to which optimized NHIW reuse can contribute to a more resource-efficient and sustainable industrial sector in the U.S.

This project will: (1) delineate NHIW generation throughout the US at a high geo-spatial resolution; (2) establish a rigorous baseline for current NHIW disposition at a matching spatial resolution; (3) design modules to assess the environmental impacts of transportation and different NHIW reuse pathways; (4) evaluate NHIW reuse potential and resulting environmental benefits based on empirical evidence and geo-spatial constraints. Quantifying resource and climate impacts of NHIW reuse and examining it spatially has broader impacts on three fronts. First, it offers a sturdy foundation for assessing state and national material efficiency and GHG emissions targets for public and private sector actors. Second, it enables state and local officials to consider beneficial reuse as a routine, evidence-based dimension of urban and rural development planning. Third, valuable educational and outreach opportunities will be created based on the findings of this project that will assist interested parties from school children to industrial leaders seeking to recover more and dispose less.