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Living in the land of plenty means that practically anything a person wants or needs is readily available. The availability of resources, technology and cheap manufacturing has resulted in a culture of over-consumption and disposal that is filling up our landfills with waste, depleting the supply of clean water and natural resources, polluting the air and contributing to climate change. Landfills are already closing at a rate of one per day, and, with the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the environmental and economic impact of waste is on the rise.
A lot of waste can be diverted from landfills through a robust, contemporary combination of “reduce, reuse, recycle:”
• Reduce – We can eliminate materials from the waste stream by practicing Green Purchasing and source reduction, the combination of which will help eliminate waste from a product’s entire lifecycle.
• Reuse – We can reuse materials instead of throwing them away by practicing Deconstruction--which diverts previously used building materials (currently 40% of landfill waste) to new construction projects--and by leveraging “byproduct synergies” that transform one company’s waste into another company’s feedstock or input.
• Recycle (and Compost) – Residential, commercial and industrial recycling and composting programs can keep waste out of landfills while creating useful products without the use of new raw materials and natural resources.
These and other approaches have the power to create green jobs. In fact, the waste-related industry accounts for nearly 65% of the growing “Clean Energy” job market identified by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Demand for greener products that produce less waste and pollution is growing quickly. In response to various barriers to utilizing this strategy effectively – namely, rampant “greenwashing” and premium prices for sustainable goods – green purchasing programs and green product certifications are growing in popularity.
Deconstruction and building material reuse is a promising area of growth in the Green Economy. The U.S. EPA recently convened a regional discussion on how to grow this sector strategically and sustainably. Among the challenges are the creation of policies and incentives to promote deconstruction, such as integrating it into permitting and building codes and retooling waste management policies. Increasing awareness among developers, contractors and other building professionals about potential economic advantages of deconstruction and reuse is another moving trend.
Programs that help businesses turn their waste stream into an income stream are taking reuse to a new level by identifying byproduct synergies and material reuse opportunities. In addition, commercial composting is growing with the help of supportive public policies: In 2009, Illinois adopted a new commercial composting law that is designed to help make the practice more economically attractive. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, composting businesses that collect food scraps from Illinois restaurants, compost the material, and sell the end product, can create more income and four times as many jobs as traditional methods of waste disposal.
What Delta is Doing
Delta has a history of leadership in finding opportunities to reduce waste while spurring economic development. Delta is:
• Leading the deconstruction and reuse movement in Chicago by founding the ReBuilding Exchange, the region’s first building material reuse center, which turns economic and environmental liabilities into assets and provides affordable building materials to low-income communities and DIYers throughout the area. It also creates jobs and trains hard-to-employ workers for deconstruction careers.
• Performing waste audits and consulting with government agencies and non-profit institutions to identify opportunities to reduce waste.
• Working with business and industry to accurately assess the life cycle of products and processes and quantify the investments needed to reduce waste and translate it into economic opportunity.
To explore additional green opportunities, visit our Green Economy Navigator.