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Recycling isn’t enough: Missoula works to reduce waste by 90 percent

Executive director Katie Deuel said Home ReSource is all about repurposing material. The nonprofit dismantles houses and other structures by hand, selling the reusable goods back to consumers. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The next time you throw away a plastic bottle, remember that you could be contributing to the nearly $5 million worth of recyclables that end up in Missoula’s landfill each year.

On Monday, members of Missoula’s Zero by Fifty leadership team presented City Club members with tips for reducing the city’s waste. In this context, waste refers to trash that finds its way to a landfill.

The Missoula City Council unanimously approved a Zero Waste Resolution in February 2016, vowing to reduce the city’s waste by 90 percent by 2050.

Katie Deuel, executive director of Home ReSource and a member of the leadership team, said the first step in making a difference with waste is changing how we see waste – not as garbage, but as materials with value.

Deuel said Home ReSource is all about repurposing material. The nonprofit dismantles houses and other structures by hand, selling the reusable goods back to consumers.

Construction materials and demolition debris account for 40 percent of landfill waste by weight, according to 2014 EPA data. Home ReSource’s approach places value on what many people consider junk.

“It’s really about changing our relationship with materials,” Deuel told City Club Missoula’s monthly meeting. “It’s about understanding where they come from and where they go.”

For example, the average ton of disposed material – garbage – in Montana costs about $45 to take to the landfill. It costs a little more in Missoula and a little less in Billings.

But that same material, if repurposed and reused through Home ReSource, can be valued at $920/ton, according to 2016 Home ReSource data.

Home ReSource community engagement manager Jeremy Drake said the reality is that Missoula cannot recycle its way to zero waste.

The city faces many infrastructure and policy hurdles over the next 30 years. Among the options are adding incentives for building deconstruction and mandating universal recycling.

After the presentation, attendees were encouraged to discuss and ask questions. Many people wanted to know how they could help at home. Drake said it starts with personal decisions.

“Each of us can be empowered to make the kinds of choices that are heading in the direction of zero waste by thinking about the things we buy and the things we use and aiming for reducing the amount of stuff we consume and shooting for reusability,” Drake said. “The last resort is buying things that can be recycled if we need to purchase and use things.”

City conservation coordinator Chase Jones said the project has been steadily progressing and is now in the public input phase.

The next step, he said, will be to bring a plan draft to open houses where the public can comment and help shape the final plan. These open houses will be in September on to-be-determined dates.

Jones expects to present the final plan to City Council and the community at the end of the calendar year.

City Club meetings are open to the public, though meeting officials do ask for an online RSVP. The next meeting will be on Sept. 11 and will focus on health care in Montana and the nation.