Market Processes and the Closing of ’Industrial Loops’

A Historical Reappraisal


Institute for Policy Studies Johns Hopkins University Wyman Park Building 3400 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD 21218-2696 USA


Many industrial ecologists assume that traditional economic development was characterized by a linear approach in which materials and energy were extracted, processed, used, and dumped in a linear flow into, through, and out of the economy. Much historical evidence, however, indicates that industrial resource recovery was much more widespread than currently thought. This article reviews the available evidence by introducing the reader to earlier literature on the topic and by providing a short case study of animal by-products recovery from the Neolithic period to the middle of the twentieth century. The main finding of this article is that the belief that market actors systematically failed to close “industrial loops” in earlier eras is inaccurate. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the industrial ecology metaphor was actually well understood in the middle of the nineteenth century.