City leaders addressing waste woes

A new city proposal says the U area has a high amount of housing demolition waste.

Haley Madderom

University of Minnesota alumnus and retired Minneapolis teacher Ardes Johnson lived in her townhouse on 14th Avenue Southeast until April, when it was demolished to be replaced by a new apartment complex.

Johnson salvaged as much of her home as possible before she moved out of the neighborhood where she said she expected to spend the rest of her life.

She tried to move, sell and donate appliances, furnaces and cabinets, but she couldn’t save everything.

“All the rooms in my house were oak wood floors. They were beautiful,” she said. “But it was just so much work to take it up and clean it up and reuse it again.”

Now, an initiative led by Minneapolis City Council members Andrew Johnson and Linea Palmisano is addressing housing demolition waste and drafting a deconstruction policy due next spring.

The plan specifically cites Wards 13 and 3 as high demolition areas in 2013, the latter of which encompasses parts of the University area.

Deconstruction entails salvaging materials — like wooden beams, light fixtures, fireplace mantels and even roofing — from homes and repurposing them for reuse, said Johnson, the Ward 12 Councilman. Scrapped goods can be resold to construction contractors, furniture builders or anyone in need of material, he said.

According to a September deconstruction report by Johnson’s office, wood, concrete, metal and glass waste from construction and demolition make up 40 percent of the nation’s solid landfill waste. It is the second-largest waste stream in the country.

Johnson said while deconstruction is primarily an environmental waste issue, there is also a clear economic benefit.

According to the report, deconstruction creates five times the number of jobs as construction does and can provide consumers with affordable antique home improvement material.

“One of the biggest challenges with this is creating a market for it,” Johnson said. “[Professional builders] are the ones that we need on board the most.”

He pointed to notable historic area buildings, like the Loring Pasta Bar, as places he thinks deconstruction policies could be beneficial for if it ever had to be torn down.

“It’s even more egregious of a loss if you turn around and take that building and throw it in a bucket and stick it in a landfill,” he said.

Under better deconstruction guidance, Johnson said the bricks that form any number of Minneapolis buildings could someday be used to line someone’s patio.

“Even though [a building] goes away, it doesn’t have to go away. It can be transformed and take on a new life,” he said.

Michael Guest, manager of the University’s ReUse Program Warehouse, said there is a solid market for reuse programs. He said that on a larger scale, he believes deconstruction programs like Johnson’s nascent one could be successful.

Guest said he thinks it could be beneficial for the University to partner with the city as it moves forward with its own construction projects.

“But they would need a big space, probably three or four times bigger than the University’s ReUse Warehouse,” he said.

Guest said he believes in a culture of breathing new life into old materials.

“We can’t continually dig up raw materials to make a product,” he said. “So much of what we’ve made in the past has a life cycle longer than we traditionally give it.”