By Mark Marcoplos

Industry for a Sustainable Future

By Mark Marcoplos Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm

It’s time to shift gears on our economic development plans. County leadership seems to be embracing a new openness to encouraging business. Presentations and discussions almost always include vague statements to the effect that we have a new commitment to economic development and a new appreciation of the necessity for being business-friendly.

In the absence of a coherent shared vision for specific types of economic activity, it seems that what is actually being discussed is merely modifying processes to allow almost any type of economic activity. The goal is to create jobs and generate tax revenue, worthy and time-honored objectives to be sure.

You don’t have to be a futurist or economist to understand that the old bromides are not enough for the uncertain future we face. We are in the days of peak oil, with fluctuations and eventual permanent increases in fuel costs. Additionally, global climate change has already begun to alter the national economy in capricious ways that affect every town and county in the country. Our economic system increasingly puts local governments behind the eight-ball. We need to incorporate resilient and self-reliant systems into our local economic landscape.

Imagine if we had a biofuels plant that utilized our waste stream as a raw material. There have been local discussions about a specific technology that removes nearly all of the recyclables and processes the rest into fuel. The plants are quiet, odorless, and use very little water and energy. They can also be custom-sized to fit the resource stream.

Imagine that, in the same eco- industrial park, we had a manufacturing plant that created picnic tables, bike parking racks, recycling receptacles, patio furniture, and more from the plastic resources that currently are shipped away.

Old asphalt roof shingles can be processed into road, sidewalk, and bikeway material. These shingles are one of the major components of demolition debris and the alternative to processing them is landfilling. This type of facility would require more old shingles than we generate, but surrounding municipalities would welcome a partnership.

These industries would present siting and design challenges in order to restrict their impacts. The type of biofuels plant mentioned above would have surprisingly low impacts. The plastic products plant would likely have more, and the asphalt plant would present the most challenges. We should accept these challenges in the spirit of meeting our own needs and not externalizing our impacts on other communities. If we are going to generate trash and recyclables, then we should figure out a way to contribute to processing them for the public good.

Manifesting these facilities would take more creativity in design and political engagement than we have yet displayed. But the benefits would go beyond producing jobs and tax revenues. We would save money through the years by significantly seceding from the conventional big waste system that is so reliant on fuel and externalizing costs on the public. In addition to the biofuels and other products that we would have available locally, there would also be an intangible benefit from acting responsibly and providing leadership for other communities.

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