Guest post by Steve Thomas, Board Member, ReUSE Minnesota
A July 11 article in the Star Tribune reported on the proposed 362-foot landfill expansion in Burnsville by Waste Management; a mountain of waste looming more than 30 stories over the Minnesota River. Along with creating an ugly eyesore along an essential waterway, this expansion will pollute our land, water, and air for decades, even centuries, to come. (“Stop Trashing the Climate” is one of several studies documenting the link between climate change and the unsustainable practice of waste generation).
Landfills are archaic, and we know they are harmful to our communities in ways beyond just a stinky eyesore. They are a source of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Landfills also have a detrimental impact on soil, vegetation, and wildlife. And they are a major source of groundwater pollution in the form of “leachate,” runoff from rain and waste contamination.
We can and must do better. We can and must continue to support innovative and proven alternatives to landfills such as the reuse and repair of goods and materials.
At ReUSE Minnesota, we are expanding Minnesota’s reuse sector and studying the dramatic benefits of reducing waste through reuse. Research shows that one of the primary ways cities and counties are reducing landfill waste is through the expansion of the reuse sector. Currently, according to the MPCA, Minnesota’s reuse sector directly employs 46,000 employees and generates at least $4 billion in gross sales annually. And this sector continues to grow, showing there is a real desire to grow a sustainable economy and reduce waste across the State.
We can take personal steps to reduce waste through reuse and we must hold our policymakers accountable for supporting sustainable, healthy communities. Local, county, and State agencies must heed the warning of the environmental hazards associated with increased waste; instead, these leaders must support reuse initiatives, which will reduce pollutants (including greenhouse gasses), build a healthier future, and a stronger economy.
For instance, the legislature must pass the Fair Repair Bill, which would require manufacturers to provide repair information and replacement parts for consumer goods like refrigerators, small appliances, computers, cell phones, and more, to reduce waste.
Metro area cities should also look to other forward-thinking cities across the country, which are adopting new policies and practices to reduce waste in landfills. To date, more than 160 municipalities across the country have adopted policies to reduce construction and demolition (C&D) waste, which now makes up the largest amount of waste in landfills. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, more than 80 percent of the 1.6 million tons of construction and demolition waste generated Statewide in 2013 was landfilled. Demolishing buildings and burying the waste is simply not a healthy or sustainable practice.
Instead of expanding the “dump,” we urge local officials to adopt a much more enlightened policy. Reduce waste on the front end. For example, a policy of reusing at least 5% of a building and recycling an additional 70% of its materials, typically results in net zero emissions. This policy also reduces substantially the amount of toxic material to buried in the ground.
One of ReUSE Minnesota’s members, Better Futures Minnesota, is a local pioneer in the effort to divert building materials from the waste stream. According to a Ecotone Analytics Environmental Impact Analysis, the demolition of 2000 sq ft house emits, on average, 250 metric tons of CO2 which is equal to driving 5 cars for a year. As an alternative, Better Futures diverts 85% of this typical house from the landfill, which results in net zero emissions.
Minnesota’s estimated 46,000 workers in the reuse and repair sectors are practicing innovative solutions and practical alternatives to the building a 30-story landfill. Reuse helps us protect Mother Earth and build healthier communities. We call for local, county, and State officials to make a new choice: support solutions to reduce waste and help grow a reuse economy.