I went to the well-attended “Up-Cycle” discussion hosted at Wabi Sabi by the Resiliency Hub on Thursday, July 26, excited about the possibilities of up-sizing the recycle center as a useful community resource for generating small businesses.

I went thinking that the main problem was the volume of plastics that are no longer accepted. Instead, I discovered that paper and cardboard take up 80 percent of the volume of space at the recycling center. The cost for shipping paper products barely pays for itself. So, why not re-purpose it locally? We clearly have a need for meaningful employment, a way to recycle paper waste and provide products for creating more energy efficient housing. Could we address all three of these goals by creating a cottage industry that transforms waste paper into cellulose insulation and compressed paper adobe blocks? Imagine sweat equity housing that trains home-builders the skills of masonry construction, passive solar design, the merits of combining mass and insulation, and the pride of using green building materials produced by people you know in your community.

This is what ZERI (Zero Emissions Resource Initiatives) calls “up-sizing.”

Up-sizing takes an isolated problem and transforms it into a chain of benefits that spread throughout the whole community. We take a waste problem and turn it into an eco-prosperity opportunity. Through the eyes of ZERI we inventory community needs with local resources; abundance of “waste” paper, abundance of clay rich dirt (at our local gravel yard), the need for meaningful employment, skilled labor, low-cost energy-efficient housing, all the while reducing our CO2 footprint and increasing prosperity.

For me, it all adds up to having more fun. Another opportunity that came about at the up-cycle meeting was the fact that as much as 20 percent of the trash that gets dumped at the land fill is good quality lumber, doors, window frames and other construction materials. There is so much new building going on that a lot of usable stuff is ending up at the dump.

The solid waste district needs to up-size, not down-size.

The landfill needs dedicated staff to separate and organize useful materials for resale. It needs a lumber storage building (preferable one built from resourced materials) to protect these valuable materials and be run as a re-store. With sufficient investment, it could be an example of imported wastefulness transformed into local usefulness.

The re-store could provide leased space for small craft workshops that turn trash into treasure; pallets become furniture, glass becomes fused tile, tires become door mats. I met a father- and son-team in New Mexico who cut tires into strips with a simple contraption and wired them into really cool door mats with colorful beads. They made so many they were supplying Target.

Up-sizing the recycle center compost is another hot item. Up-size community composting. There are tons and tons of yard waste at the landfill but no water or high nitrogen component to make it really fertile. Where does the solid waste from the sewer plant get taken? We are our best source of nitrogen! Dedicated staff are needed to process the compost into valuable fertilizer. Up-sizing connects people with developed resources with unrealized resources to create value-added resources.

Kaki Hunter