Zero waste: Collaborative targets building industry to improve reuse

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Demolition around Southgate Mall and in downtown Missoula has been hit and miss when it comes to salvaging construction materials. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

One week last winter, demolition crews razed an old Brooks Street eatery, leaving a pile of construction debris in its place. The wooden beams, siding and roofing materials would find their way to the local landfill.

But if you ask members of the Five Valleys High Performance Building Collaborative, such demolition practices are a waste good money and valuable resources.

“We’re looking for ways to transform the local building industry through research and outreach to improve the design, the performance and the reuse of the built environment,” said Brett Rosenberg, a member of the collaborative who called to order a recent meeting on the subject. “We think Missoula can do better.”

Each year in Missoula, more than 210,000 tons of material ends up in the landfill, representing what advocates of reuse describe as a waste of resources. If national statistics hold true, an estimated 40 percent of all local waste, or roughly 95,000 tons of debris, stems from the building and construction industry.

Armed with such statistics and a new city initiative to divert 90 percent of all waste from the landfill by 2050, members of the collaborative have teamed up with staff at Home ReSource to explore ways to improve the local system.

“We’re seeking effective ways to reduce waste from the building sector and what it can do to help move Missoula closer to zero waste,” said Jeremy Drake, the community engagement manager at Home ReSource. “Reusing building materials is a great solution for reducing the construction and demolition waste that’s going to the landfill.”

Home ReSource was founded on such principals and has carved out a business by interception what otherwise heads to the landfill, from old kitchen sinks to doors, hinges and timbers.

“At some point, buildings are going to age out, or they’re going to be remodeled,” Drake said. “But some buildings are not put together to be taken apart. That’s one thought about moving forward, thinking about the end-life of a building, or how the building may change and planning for that.”

Drake described the process as design, deconstruction and diversion. Designing for eventual deconstruction would effectively divert material from the landfill, giving it a second life down the road.

Not only could such practices reduce “downstream” waste, or what gets thrown away, but it could also reduce the “upstream” waste, or the resources used to create the products that arrive in Missoula, according to Drake.

“When I think of it, I usually think of the stuff I throw away – the downstream stuff we as a community throw away,” said Drake. “But what we don’t think about is what’s happening upstream. For every one ton of waste we send to the dump, there’s 71 tons of waste created upstream to produce the products that we then use and dispose of.”

While other cities moved to address the issue years ago, the city of Missoula struggled until February when it adopted its zero waste initiative.

At the current rate of growth, the open segment at the local landfill is expected to last 15 years. If the disposal rate doesn’t slow, the resolution states, the larger landfill will be fully developed in 79 years. The zero waste initiative looks to delay that by diverting 90 percent of local waste over the next few decades.

Targeting the building industry, the collaborative believes, could have the greatest impact.

“Other communities around the country and the world have done this and been very successful in achieving waste reduction,” said Katie Deuel, executive director of Home ReSource. “They’ve achieved those goals much more quickly than the timeline we laid out for Missoula. We’ve recognized as a community we have some challenges that other communities don’t have.”

While few local statistics are available, backers of the local initiative turn to national figures, which found that 40 percent of all waste stems from the building industry, and 90 percent of that from renovations and remodels.

The city’s zero-waste plan looks to establish a baseline study to determine the city’s current rate of disposal and identify what objects are included. It also looks for ways to improve recycling and reuse among builders and contractors.

“The more upstream you think, the more impact you have,” said Drake. “If we approach building with the same mindset, we may have some good outcomes. If we want a community that creates zero waste, then we need to have the systems in place to facilitate that.”