Reformulating building regulations to promote sustainability
1. Apartment building waste management systems. A couple weeks ago, we discussed an apartment complex in Toronto that now diverts about 85% of its waste stream. In order to accommodate waste diversion, building systems and waste "storage" areas need to be redesigned.
The best way to push that forward, quickly, is to change the requisite building regulations. But because cities don't typical take responsibility for trash pick up from apartment buildings, and because private haulers may pay tipping fees to cities, so they see this as a revenue source, cities may be disincentivized to push forward better building regulations.
One resource is the Better Practice Guide Waste Management for Residential and Mixed Use Developments published by a consortium of groups in South Australia. It calls for a much more fine grained system of collection than is typical of buildings in the US.
2. Supermarket and restaurant waste diversion. The Fillery, a boutique grocery in Brooklyn is designed from the outset to minimize waste, including bulk food sales where people can bring their own containers. ("This New Brooklyn Grocery Is Designed For Zero Waste," Fast Company). From the article:
In the 10-block radius around Sarah Metz's apartment in Brooklyn, there are around 50 bodegas and five or six grocery stores. None have bulk bins; like typical markets, pretty much everything you can buy comes wrapped in plastic or cardboard.Frankly, like food cooperatives, which appeal to a hyper small segment of the consumer market, I think this isn't likely a mass solution, even though we do purchase bulk spices and other food products this way. (Although this is more about freshness maybe than minimizing packaging.) But it's still interesting. In the meantime, some supermarkets are diverting food waste to land-base composting systems, while others have set up biogas producing composting systems to generate energy ("Kroger Puts Dent in Food Waste With Biogas," Sustainable Business).
Metz is hoping to change that by opening a new packaging-free, zero-waste grocery store. She was inspired in part by the fact that only a small fraction of plastic packaging is recycled—about 14%—which is one reason that between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
Instead of a produce section, Fillery plans to offer a CSA pickup point where customers can come get a weekly supply of seasonal vegetables from local farmers. "Space is extremely limited in Brooklyn, which I imagine is one of the reasons most grocery stores here do not have a bulk section, or at least a substantial one," she says. "I opted to leave out a produce section for a variety of reasons: to maximize the variety of bulk items I can carry, to ensure there is room for a community learning space, to support regional farms and the slow food movement, and to reduce operational costs."
(I've thought too of the idea of what we might call a bulk food truck, set up sort of like one of those bottle delivery trucks, that could set up at farmers markets.)
But restaurants and other food preparation facilities could set up certain processes and practices to better divert recyclable and compostable waste in part through building regulation facilitated design.
-- "More businesses must recycle food under NYC compost rules," New York Daily News
-- "For Restaurants, Composting is a Welcome but Complex Task," New York Times
-- RecyclingWorks Massachusetts, technical assistance for businesses and institutions
-- Restaurant Food Waste Diversion Guide, RecyclingWorks
3. Recycling water/greywater. A certain portion of household waste water is reusable, without having to be sent to waste treatment facilities, and can be used on-site.
Out west, diverting this water, called greywater, has waxed and waned for the past few decades, depending on drought. According to the San Francisco Chronicle ("White House summit focuses on aggressive, new ways to save water") a housing development in California is being developed from the ground up to capture and reuse greywater. From the article:
Related to the idea of changing regulations, the City of Tracy Water System Management Plan/Wastewater Master Plan specifies the use of recycled/non-potable water for certain types of plantings and water features, development of a separate water piping system for recycled water, the use of efficient appliances using water, etc.Occupants of 11,000 new single-family houses under construction near Tracy will be able to recycle their shower, bath, laundry and sink water on site using a system designed by Australian water engineers, one of dozens of new water technologies the White House will showcase at its big “water summit” Tuesday.
Also see "Water recycling debuts at new housing tract: Australia technology could save 72% of daily water use, proponents say," San Diego Union Tribune. According to the article, it costs about $10,000/house.
While it would take many years for retrofitted greywater systems to pay off, for houses getting a gut rehab, it wouldn't be too hard to install such systems.
Additionally, small new house infill subdivisions, such as the Chancellor Row houses in Brookland or the Comstock Homes development on New Hampshire Avenue NW could have installed greywater systems while constructing the development from the outset. Or this new development in Minneapolis ("Development in north Minneapolis marks new test of real estate in city's most challenged niche," Minneapolis Star-Tribune ).
Building regulations could specify appropriate and inappropriate landscaping treatments, based on local conditions--this could extend to requiring more use of indigenous plantings (local fauna eat local plants, not non-local plants). Typically they do not.
Photo: Alison Miksch for Southern Living.
The Edible Landscaping concept replaces traditional lawns with food cultivation ("Smart city governments grow produce for the people," Grist Magazine) and extends this to public spaces. For example, the grounds of Baltimore's City Hall includes a herb garden.
And many water authorities and environmental agencies are pushing the concept of rain gardens, but such plantings aren't typically "required" as part of building regulations.
5. Food waste collection bins as part of the system of trash cans in the public space. While not a building regulation matter, Granville Island in British Columbia has outdoor food waste collection bins as a part of their street furniture system to waste/trash cans.
Images from Tyler Talks Trash blog.
They include information on what "food scraps" means as far as composting is concerned.
6. Regulating food /specifying compostable containers. Relatedly, while some cities, including DC, are banning the use of styrofoam containers, which aren't easily recycled, it's hard to know what is and isn't compostable. For example, 7-11 claims their coffee cups are compostable, while Au Bon Pain or Starbucks use cups with a plastic lining.
But because they cost a bit more and aren't specified for use as part of comprehensive regulations concerning composting and recycling and "take out food," such containers aren't typically used by such restaurants.