Building Waste Presents Economic, Environmental Opportunity for Chicagoans | Green Economy Center

CHICAGO – In recent years, the deconstruction industry has consistently gained ground due to the considerable economic and environmental opportunities it offers. Although the environmental benefits are a significant driver, the economics are becoming an important impetus in certain parts of the United States, especially in economically depressed regions.

According to David Bennink, a national deconstruction consultant, “it’s catching on in the Rust Belt cities for its social benefits, for job creation and providing materials. The materials we reclaim are available for low-income homeowners; they can afford to buy our stuff. There are so many benefits to it that it’s catching on all over the place.”

Deconstruction also increases the opportunity for local business development and, being labor-intensive, produces local job growth. This, in turn, enhances the local tax base and contributes to a multiplier effect of money invested in the community. The Rebuilding Center (2010) has found that “deconstruction creates six to eight jobs for every one created by standard demolition.” Deconstruction can be a vital component of public housing and community revitalization programs—often supported by substantial federal funding—and involves a significant number of trainees and workers drawn from the community’s lowest-income strata (ILSR, 2008). Deconstruction can also be cost-competitive with standard demolition when accounting for materials, revenue earned from material sales, and potential tax incentives.

Tax benefits can result in a significant reduction in overall cost as compared to demolition for the same project (EPA 2000). Moreover, integrating recycled and reused materials helps toward LEED® certification, creating marketing advantages.

Environmentally, deconstruction reduces construction and demolition (C&D) waste, reduces air pollution, reduces carbon dioxide emissions, abates the need for new landfills and incinerators, preserves resources and saves energy by decreasing the extraction and processing.

“Our biggest challenge has been pinpointing where in the system we should intervene to start building the capacity needed to trigger broad change,” said Elise Zelechowski, executive director and founder of Delta Institute’s ReBuilding Exchange, the first Chicago area building material reuse center, which has diverted more than 3,000 tons of construction and demolition waste since its launch in 2009. “It’s no small feat to shift the way people perceive their built environment, to help them see assets where they’ve always seen dilapidated ruins destined for the landfill.”

To help change people’s perceptions and meet growing interest in the field, the ReBuilding Exchange has engaged individuals at all points in the system, offering a variety of programs that provide an entry point to deconstruction and reuse. In March 2010, the Exchange launched a job training program that provides classroom and on-the-job skill building experience. Through a partnership with the Safer Foundation and the City of Chicago, the nine month program offers workers an entry into the construction trades while offering alternatives to traditional construction work. For retail customers, the Exchange provides hands-on, practical workshops that explain how individuals can incorporate salvaged materials into building projects, and how they can complete the projects themselves. In addition, the Exchange is educating waste haulers about the financial benefits of diverting waste from landfills, and is working with them to develop systems that make the diversion process more efficient.

While no single strategy will revamp the way Chicagoans think about building waste, increasing numbers of municipalities and organizations are promoting this method. Since 2007, the City of Chicago has had an ordinance requiring that 50% of construction and demolition materials be recycled. In 2009, the language of the ordinance was expanded to include reuse in addition to recycling. And this past winter, capitalizing on the growing trend of reuse, Chicago-based non-profit Delta Institute published a series of “GoGuides” to the Green Economy, one of which was on deconstruction and reuse. It offers hands-on, practical guidance to help communities, contractors, and homeowners see how they can save money and benefit the environment through the process.

To learn more about Deconstruction and Reuse, and find out how community colleges can help develop the industry and the workforce to support it, check out Delta’s recently published “GOGuide Deconstruction and Reuse, available for purchase for $15 plus $4.95 shipping and handling (print) and $12 for electronic download at For more information on the ReBuilding Exchange and its deconstruction training program, please visit

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