Industrial ecology (IE) is a biological concept applied to industrial structures. The basic concepts of IE include regional, intra-firm and product-based waste recycling systems as well as the principle of upward and downward cascading. In best current examples of regional systems, several parties are in an industrial waste re-use symbiosis. Paper industry has learned to arrange the recovery and re-use of its products on distant markets, even up to a level where indications of exceeding optimal recovery and re-use rates already exist through deteriorated fibre and product quality. Such occurrences will take place in certain legislative-economic situations. Paper industry has many cascade levels, each with their internal recovery and recycling, as well as many intra-firm, regional, and life cycle ecology structures. As an example of prospects for individual cascading routes, sludges may continue to be incinerated, but the route to landfills will be closed. The main obstacles of legislative drive toward better IE systems are in many cases existing laws and political considerations rather than economic or technical aspects. The study and practice of engineering human technology systems and related elements of natural systems should develop in such a way that they provide quality of life by actively managing the dynamics of relevant systems to reduce the risk and scale of undesirable behavior and outcomes. For the paper industry, earth systems engineering offers several development routes. One of them is the further recognition of and research on the fact that the products of the industry are returned back to the carbon cycle of the natural environment. Opportunities for modifying current earth systems may also be available for the industry, e.g. genetically modified plants for raw materials or organisms for making good quality pulp out of current raw materials. It is to be recognized that earth systems engineering may become a very controversial area, and that very diverse political pressures may determine its future usefulness to the paper industry.

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