Ithaca’s recent effort to create and implement an Energy Code Supplement is a vital step to address our global climate crisis. These policies for new construction will help create more sustainable buildings and a more livable future for us all. But a complementary element is missing as we seek to move along a greener and more sustainable path: We need a plan for construction and demolition debris.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generated 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris in 2018, making it the largest single component of landfill waste (40%). Sadly, the vast majority of construction debris (90%) results from demolition rather than new construction.
If future planning in Ithaca includes demolishing buildings in order to make room for new buildings, then we need to have real policies in place for salvage and deconstruction. We cannot continue the wasteful practice of demolishing existing buildings and sending the waste to the landfill. Far too much is lost in the process, ranging from the energy and materials required for the production and construction of each of these buildings to the economic and ecologic effects of their making. These embodied values need to be considered each time a building is demolished.
It is time to advocate for a local salvage and deconstruction ordinance for Ithaca. Other cities like Palo Alto, CA, and Portland, OR, have created these types of ordinances as a more responsible and sustainable way to address the significant problem of demolition debris. Salvaging doors, windows, floors and fixtures from a building makes good sense, but an additional level of waste diversion should be required. Deconstruction of a building and the recycling and reuse of as much of its building material as possible should be the desired outcome. With such activity comes green job creation and a stable contribution to the local economy.
To move us toward this goal, local efforts are underway to research and collect data to generate a usable deconstruction ordinance for Ithaca. CR0WD – Circularity, Reuse and Zero Waste Development – is a regional group composed of the Circular Construction Lab and the Just Places Lab of Cornell University; Cortland Reuse, Finger Lakes ReUse, Historic Ithaca, the Preservation Association of Central New York, and the Susan Christopherson Center for Community Planning. Working collaboratively, we promote sustainability and resilience in New York State communities, helping them to realize the environmental, cultural and economic benefits of prolonging the lifespan of buildings and reusing building materials and architectural elements.
By creating a local deconstruction ordinance, we will be able to reduce debris and achieve zero waste in a measurable and meaningful way. We’ve made recycling paper, plastics, glass and metal a positive habit. Let’s make the reuse and recycling of building material just as familiar and natural a practice in our community.
-CROWD (Circularity, Reuse and Zero Waste Development)