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April 6, 2017

MSU study finds potential for new, sustainable economic sector in Michigan

There may be potential for establishing a “deconstruction economy” in West Michigan that collects and repurposes waste generated by more than 250,000 abandoned structures in the Great Lakes region.

According to a study conducted by the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, in partnership with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, structural abandonment and blight create economic hardships on already distressed Midwest regions and subject residents to potentially significant health and safety hazards.

More than 9 million tons of construction and demolition waste went to Michigan landfills in 2016, of which an estimated 90 percent was generated by demolition activities. The demolition of these abandoned structures is funded primarily by federal, state and local taxpayers.

“Vacant, deserted property presents communities with a clear health and safety hazard,” said Rex LaMore, director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development. “Repurposing the materials salvaged from these properties can reduce the negative effects of abandonment and create jobs in the local community.”

By adopting policies that encourage deconstruction over demolition, LaMore said public policy leaders can put an end to private property abandonment that has hindered communities for decades.

Among the study’s key findings:

• Local governments can use ordinances to increase the use of recycled construction and demolition materials. Mandatory reuse and recycling rates in new construction assist in diverting materials from landfills.

• The process of deconstruction requires more labor than demolition. Therefore, a deconstruction-based economy would create more jobs than current demolition work.

• Truck transportation of structural debris and repurposed materials was found to be the most feasible for a variety of reasons. Container shipping on the Great Lakes was also explored but requires further development.

This study was funded in part by a technical assistance award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.