Network barter of waste & manufacturing inputs/outputs

I’ve been working the last months on building the Open Source Circular Economy Days, an event designed to kick-start an ongoing movement to use the open source methodology to begin building a waste-free circular economy.

(our Mission Statement)

One way in which we’re trying to encourage the growth of a circular economy is by allowing anyone, from anywhere, to look into processes across the economy and find solutions or other uses for what is currently seen as waste.

This replicates one of the exciting but uncertain aspects of open source - giving access and permission without necessarily knowing in advance who will use your project and to what end, which can lead to unusual and innovative developments.

One of my colleagues, Lars Zimmermann, has come up with an idea for a software project to try to aid and document this process, called IPO tables (currently at the rough prototype stage). It starts by breaking down the design, manufacture, distribution, use and end-of-life of a product into Input-Process-Output models.

This software/documentation framework should be a method to collect information about potential uses for particular parts, materials, compounds and so on – eventually once enough processes are documented you can start to plug the outputs from one process into another.

On a not-particularly detailed level, let’s say that a pineapple processing plant has a process that inputs pineapples, and outputs tinned pineapple, pineapple juice, pineapple skins/husk and pineapple leaves. Perhaps the skins and leaves are currently only used for composting.

A system like IPO Tables should be able to inform the company running the plant that pineapple leaves are being used as an input in another process to manufacture textiles.

My question for you is whether the Makerfox system of network barter could be plugged into this system in some way – so that not only can the pineapple company learn that there is a process which uses their waste as an input, but a deal can also be made for the textile company to receive this waste and in turn the pineapple company can receive an input they might require (fertiliser for example, or something much more valuable to them than compost) from elsewhere in the economy.


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Old (and good) idea

Sounds a lot like Lars reinvented the Input-Output Model, an idea that has been floating around economics since François Quesnay’s Tableau Economique (1758). Leontief won a Nobel Prize on it.


thanks for the link - yes, it’s an idea that many have found useful over the years - our interest in it, or the opportunity we see for it to become feasible, is in open source hardware.

Because in order for open source hardware to become open source hardware, it must be documented. At a bare minimum this means a Bill Of Materials, but usually much more detailed information too - if we can make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to also document their hardware in this way, (free of cost, fast, simple, embeddable with existing documentation platforms & software) and if creating that documentation provides a benefit to them (materials and resources they otherwise wouldn’t have + less environmental damage) then there’s a feasible way to actually prototype an Input-Output Model.

For people unused to documentation for third parties, and unused to p2p collaboration, it seems less likely that we could somehow convince them to take this extra step, but if we start with people already making and documenting open source hardware, and if we try to standardize IPO documentation as a useful part of open source hardware development, than perhaps it can grow. But in order to do so, our prototypes need to work well, be convenient and provide a tangible benefit. Hence thinking about bringing in network barter from an early stage.

As far I understood, IPO tables sound more like a qualitative knowledge base than a quantitative model. For example, GeneOntology has a process-oriented part describing bio-processes [1].


I think I would agree with that.

To me, IPO Tables should be the first step - creating and sharing the knowledge of how materials can be used.

Then something like MakerFox provides the next step - using this knowledge, it weighs up particular inputs needed or outputs produced by a specific actor and finds matches for them.

Without the benefits of the MakerFox part (discovering available resources, making exchange and negotiation easier), getting people to fill in IPO Tables might seem a bit of a drag, something which takes time and provides (initially, at least) no direct benefit.

When it comes to food production, David Gerrold proposed a deflationary currency which was called the Kilo-Calory, which also served as a Basic-Income unit-of-exchange, ie. everyone received a subsistence allowance of at least 3 Casies per day, which is the daily amount of nutrition required to stop you from starving.

It was created to be deflationary, as food spoils when you don’t eat it, which is why fresh, seasonal, locally-grown produce was always priced more competitively than preserved, out-of-season, distantly-grown produce. It made it easier to price in the cost of the preserving process, and the cost of transportation.

Rather than the current notional monetary value, what about using the energy-cost of creating/processing of “useful raw materials”?

This would connect very nicely into the hardware side of things, as you’d be able to measure the values of physical objects, by measuring the amount of energy required to process the raw material.

In theory, recycled aluminium should be cheaper than aluminium produced from the raw bauxite, as it requires less energy to purify. As long as you can trace the source of the aluminium, you can trace the grade of the material, so you know what it’s capable of being used for, and what it needs to be flavoured with, to change the current grade into the one you need.

Add in the constant flow of improvements in efficiency, and improvements in manufacturing technology, and a good basic standard of living will only get cheaper to achieve.

Being able to trace the materials flowing through the supply chain would also work as a way of measuring C02 generation and absorption. Which would mean qualifying for Carbon Reduction tax credits. There’s another source of sponsorship.

This would mean that there would be a lot of interest from investors who are playing the long game.

Interesting idea!

(But then what: industrial canned tuna/beans, that deteriorates only very slowly, should come at a premium over fresh produce, that rots in days, no?)


It also means that any production costs and transportation costs would be reflected in the final price, so yes, stuff that’s canned would be more expensive than stuff that’s fresh, and stuff that’s produced and shipped from far away, is more expensive than stuff that’s produced locally.

There’s one vegetarian i know, who integrates this approach into her daily life, by only eating seasonally-available vegetables, which invariably means that the ingredients she uses are a lot cheaper.