Cook County, Illinois, recently brought the elimination of construction waste to a new level by creating the first demolition debris ordinance in the Midwest. This groundbreaking ordinance requires most of the debris created from demolition to be recycled and reused instead of being sent to the landfill. The ordinance helps contribute to Cook County’s zero waste goal, part of the Solid Waste Plan Update.
The new law states that at least 7 percent of suburban construction and demolition debris must be recycled, and an additional 5 percent must be reused on residential properties. This new legislation will have a great impact as it affects about 2.5 million suburban Cook County residents.
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Building debris takes up an astonishing 40 percent of landfill material nationwide. This new law will not only bring down the debris amounts in landfills, but will also save materials that are valuable and easily reused, such as lumber and finished components. It is important to keep the waste down because Cook County’s one remaining landfill only has a few years of capacity left. By recycling instead of creating waste, the lifespan of this landfill is sure to increase.
In addition to saving materials and saving space in landfills, the new ordinance will also be creating jobs. Recycling just 5 percent of demolition debris from about 30 residential structures can support at least one new retail center with up to five jobs and 30 full-time deconstruction workers. Recycling demolition waste will generate jobs, stabilize local economies, and create a steady supply stream of materials for construction, renovation, and infrastructure building.
Many contractors already salvage a significant percentage of materials from demolition sites, but this ordinance will ensure that all contractors are aiding in the zero waste goal. Education is key for the new ordinance; the more aware contractors are, the more beneficial it will be.
Chicago’s new ordinance may be an inspiration to other cities to do the same. Only a few additional cities in the US currently require reuse, including Seattle, Berkeley, and Boulder. Eventually, these laws will hopefully become the norm throughout the country.