How Self-Reliant Cities Use Raw Materials

Read the original post on the ICLEI USA Local Action Blog

The recycling movement is yielding excellent results throughout the United States. In a range of innovative new ways, local governments are connecting the dots between resource conservation, sustainability, and local economic development. They are saving money, increasing local self-reliance, creating local jobs, and strengthening their local economies through recycling, reuse, composting and local food initiatives. Read on for success stories from communities across the country, and how you follow their lead.

Recycling and Refurbishing to Reduce Costs and Create Jobs

In Bridgeport, CT, a mattress recycling and refurbishing enterprise is starting up in late June. Twenty workers will process 100,000 mattresses and box springs annually. This will reduce transfer station and landfill costs, while making good end products available to consumers at pennies on the dollar compared to new mattresses from formal retail stores. The plant is owned by the Greater Bridgeport Community Development Corporation, which used a $100,000 Community Development Block grant to leverage additional capital.

In Reading, PA, the new administration has hired its own workers at union wage and benefit levels to manage the city’s recycling program. There are 10 new jobs and the city is expecting to save $200,000. Further by controlling its own materials, the city can direct these resources to companies that will locate manufacturing plants in Reading. Reading will be the site of the first US plant that uses recycled high grade paper and recycled cotton to produce stationery, copy paper, envelopes and file folders for local and regional markets. The plant will create 100 jobs at $14 per hour, plus an additional 20 jobs in distribution and warehousing. United Community Services, the city’s workforce development agent will identify, screen and recruit workers. Mayor Vaughn Spencer is introducing additional creative ways to use raw available materials for sustainable economic growth.An array of refurbishing operations in Eugene, OR including mattresses, automobiles, appliances, computers, furniture, sold through 11 outlet stores run by Saint Vincent de Paul of Lane County (SVDP) has helped lower the cost of living in that city by an estimated 3%. SVDP’s total operations employ over 400 workers at living wages plus health insurance. SVDP also manufacturers products made from window glass and fire starters made from old crayons. Since the Great Recession of 2008, SVDP has hired over 100 new workers and raised wages.

Industrial Parks Focused on Recycling and Reuse

In Alachua County, FL, a 40-acre Resource Recovery Park has been created for recycling and composting companies. Similarly, an industrial park for these types of companies is being developed in Austin, TX. Austin just released an extraordinary 321-page master plan for resource recovery that will guide the city to 90% diversion of discarded materials by 2040. The report will save cities seeking to replicate these goals hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.

Composting and Urban Agriculture Boost Local Economies

In Poughkeepsie, NY, the city is providing four acres to Greenway Environmental Services, a composting company, which will create the foundation for an intensive urban agriculture sector. Urban agriculture is essential for sustainable cities. David Crockett, director of the Office of Sustainability in Chattanooga reports that if just 10% of the food eaten in the city were grown in the city, it would make a $1 billion impact on the local economy.

In Atlanta, urban agriculture is making considerable progress. Bioponica, Inc. has produced two grow facilities at Park Department outdoor centers that grow fish using algae and duckweed as feed, and vegetables from the nutrients in fish excretions. Elemental Impact has established the downtown Zero Waste Zone in which businesses segregate their organic waste for composting. This also makes it easier to recycle non-organic discarded materials. Elemental Impact is also working with the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest in the world, to capture back of the house and concourse organic waste, as well as the plastic packages that are used to deliver food to the facility. Elemental Impact is now working closely with the National Restaurant Association to establish these zones in many US cities.

Also in Atlanta the faith-based organization Charitable Connections  recently expanded their re-store, the Fuller Center. Charitable Connections has also established a recycled paint enterprise. The group has also attracted an electronic scrap recycling company and a textile recycling company to its community.  The Lifecycle Building Center, which  also distributes used and new building materials to low-income customers, was opened in December 2011.

Selling Recycled Plastics for Profit

In Spikard, MO, Coon Manufacturing, Inc. produces an array of products from recycled HDPE and PP plastics. These are sold to markets across the US. The technology configuration is homegrown and replicable in virtually any city or county in the US.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.