Rebuilding Exchange is a nonprofit social enterprise established by Delta Institute in January 2009 and became fully independent in 2015. At Rebuilding Exchange we repurpose building materials that would otherwise devalue a community and provide skills training for people in poverty, making a commitment to education and economic development in Chicago's underserved communities. We do this by diverting materials from landfills and making them accessible for reuse through our retail warehouse, by promoting sustainable deconstruction practices, by providing education and job training programs, and by creating innovative models for sustainable reuse. Rebuilding Exchange has three distinct ... read more Rebuilding Exchange is a nonprofit social enterprise established by Delta Institute in January 2009 and became fully independent in 2015. At Rebuilding Exchange we repurpose building materials that would otherwise devalue a community and provide skills training for people in poverty, making a commitment to education and economic development in Chicago's underserved communities. We do this by diverting materials from landfills and making them accessible for reuse through our retail warehouse, by promoting sustainable deconstruction practices, by providing education and job training programs, and by creating innovative models for sustainable reuse. Rebuilding Exchange has three distinct social enterprise areas which achieve our mission of diverting materials from the landfill and providing affordable access and education to the community. The proceeds from these programs support our job training program, which provides individuals with barriers to employment critical training spanning a six-month apprenticeship that includes marketable skills and certifications. In working with our team and immersing them in our mission and culture, we empower our apprentices to see the inarguable parallels between the repurposing of things and the repurposing of self. Our 25,000 square foot retail warehouse provides materials at a greatly reduced cost to the general public. Our customers come from every zip code in Chicago and include renters, homeowners, small business owners, landlords and property managers, artists and more. Carrying affordable materials allow individuals at any income level to make creative and quality improvements to their homes. Customers also use our materials as an economical, local source of goods for their own small businesses in industries like construction, design, restaurants, and furniture making. Our public workshops educate community members on how to use our materials and live more sustainably. Workshops are priced affordably and we offer discounts to nonprofit organizations. Participants in our workshops learn how to use tools to build items from reclaimed materials, and learn do-it-yourself topics like steam radiator maintenance, beekeeping, and aquaponics. RX Made, our in-house custom fabrication and production line, innovates to demonstrate the potential of our materials. Employing both current and former job apprentices, RX Made creates small products and furniture, as well as custom projects for customers large and small. Our tables and other pieces can be found throughout Chicago in small local shops and Michelin rated restaurants. DIVERTING MATERIALS: A SOLUTION TO LANDFILLS Landfills are finite and we are running out of space. A prime example is in Chicago's Cook County, where there are no more operating landfills. Over 5 million Cook County residents send their waste further and further away, negatively impacting struggling communities where new landfills are located. There are human health risks related to cancer and reproductive health, as well as quality of life concerns for individuals living near landfills, which can leach hazardous materials into the earth, contaminating soil and groundwater. Nationally, at 534 million tons, Construction and Demolition (C&D) debris was more than double the amount of municipal solid waste generated in 2014, and over 90% of the C&D materials were generated through demolition, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The increased distance also means a higher carbon footprint for the transportation required to move the waste. In addition to the land-based issues around landfills, they also release a significant amount of methane gas. Methane gas released from landfills accounts for over 18% of all human-related methane emissions in the United States, according to the EPA. In the first 10-20 years methane is in our atmosphere, it is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the earth (as reported by Scientific American, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). One cannot fully understand the environmental impact of building materials without considering water and energy consumption. Both are consumed at each stage of a building's development: during the original extraction of raw materials, the manufacturing of the raw materials into building materials, transportation of materials to the site, and assemblage of those materials into a building. The average home contains hundreds of thousands of gallons of embodied water, and 892 million BTUs of embodied energy, an amount of energy equal to 7,826 gallons of gasoline, or enough to drive an SUV 5 1/2 times around the earth. Roughly 40% of what ends up in landfills is building materials, making it the largest category of solid waste. As cities grow, waste disposal continues to be a public health and environmental challenge. According to a 2017 report from the Illinois EPA, Illinois landfills at the current disposal rate have a cumulative life expectancy of 21 years, meaning we are running out of ways to safely dispose of waste. A 2015 Illinois Waste Characterization Study estimated that, of the annual 12.1 million tons of landfilled waste, approximately 2.5 million metric tons of CO2e was emitted - a contributor to climate change. Diverting waste from landfills is a solution that increases the life expectancy of landfills, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and harmful contaminants released from landfills, all while creating more jobs. In addition to the 12,850 MTCO2e emissions that have been reduced, recovering building commodities avoids emissions from raw material extraction and transport which is energy and fuel intensive. It also avoids emissions from raw materials processing into "manufacturing ready" feedstock, another energy intensive process. Recovering building commodities sustains forest carbon sequestration by reducing deforestation and the need for virgin wood in new construction and reuses carbon based plastics indefinitely, rather than one time btu value for combustion.
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