Wednesday, May 14, 2008

E4S in Akron -- no more waste!

It's easy to get depressed about environmental issues -- so what a big emotional boost to attend the E4S event "Waste is a business opportunity" at the new Ohio Brewery on Main Street this evening. The event was packed, and the networking non-stop. What is more, the future for reducing and reusing waste streams is looking much brighter.

We heard some short testimonials from local business people, who shared what their companies are doing with and to various forms of waste. Shearer's (makers of chips and other food products) sells their used cooking oil to a company that extracts the nutrients to use in dog and cat food products. The potato peelings are sold to a company that turns them into cattle feed. Another company uses the potato peelings to make biodegradable "leather." The company also collects and resells shrink wrap to a local toy company that recycles plastic. They are working on installing heat exchangers to reuse the heat from the cooking process to heat the buildings and offices. Shearer's saved 200K by initiating sustainable practices last year and made an additional 200K by turning waste streams into profits.

GoJo Industries also sells plastic waste and donates soap to local charities who distribute it to those in need. Zerolandfill is an organization that recycles samples of fabric, brick, and other items used by architectural firms that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The samples are distributed to local artists and educators who can use the materials for a wide variety of arts and crafts projects. They are looking to expand into Akron, as there are many local architectural firms with resources to recycle.

A Piece of Cleveland harvests good wood from buildings that are being demolished. The materials are then turned into new pieces for the home, such as counter tops, built in furniture and so on. The owner of this company spoke with great passion about "upcycling" building materials and providing the purchaser with a "rebirth certificate" for each piece, detailing its point of origin and historical context.

The most exciting news of the evening hands down was a new process from PolyFlow, that supposedly can take all plastics, not just one and two, and turn them into a reusable polymer. That also includes compound plastic items as well as rubber tires and carpets. Sounds incredible, sort of a 21st century alchemical miracle. The man who spoke said the business plan is to lease the technology and establish plants all over the world.

E4S makes sure that people in the audience are thinking and connecting about the topic of the night, and we were instructed to talk in small groups to answer questions about waste streams in our daily lives and how we deal with them...or not! I talked to a young architect working in downtown Akron. He has worked to get everyone to turn off their computers every night when they go home, which saves a whole lot of energy. They are also going to invest in rain barrels to put at the corners of their building with drip lines attached and spread throughout their building's landscaping.

I thought about the school district in which I teach and how unsustainable so many of its practices are. Shouldn't all the food waste be going to a company like Paygro, which turns food and green waste into usable products such as mulch and soil enhancers. I've seen custodians toss fluorescent light bulbs into the trash, which is a huge no no, but who's paying attention? We let kids buy water and sports drinks in plastic bottles, but don't provide recycling for those plastic bottles or for aluminum cans. And we won't even talk about how much is left turned on and plugged in over night and the weekends.

Valley Park Association, Summit County Metro Parks, and a representative from Akron's E4S is expanding their Akron event calendar and by tonight's turnout, we can only hope for more green and sustainable business opportunities locally. Lots of movers and shakers were in the audience tonight, including folks from the Ohio EPA, KSU radio, The Sierra Club, CuyahogaGreenPrint, which is actually getting up and running -- look for a web site soon and invitations to join in the movement to turn our village green!

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