Second Use president Dirk Wassink recently traveled to Grand Rapids, MI for the annual DECON + REUSE conference where salvage industry professionals gather to discuss all things reuse. Below, he shares his observations and experiences from this year’s conference.

Many people around the U.S. and in other countries are working on building deconstruction and materials reuse. However, we don’t hear about it all that often. Every year or two, the Building Materials Reuse Association, a non-profit dedicated to growing building materials reuse around the country, holds a conference showcasing the latest ideas and practices related to policy and practice of deconstruction and reuse. People from all over the country and often internationally as well share their wisdom and experiences. The most recent conference just wrapped up on September 21.

So what kinds of things are happening in the wider realm of building materials reuse? One theme that we are paying close attention to is local policy encouraging deconstruction of older homes. We have been watching two of these in particular: Portland, Oregon and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

2 years ago, Portland started a policy of requiring deconstruction when a home built before 1917 is being removed. This policy was created with a great deal of public pressure and involvement, after almost two years of regular meetings of a Deconstruction Advisory Group (DAG). Today, this policy is working well. The number of businesses doing deconstruction has increased from two before the policy to fourteen today. Dozens of green jobs have been created as a result.

Milwaukee began a deconstruction policy at the start of this year. The mechanics of this policy are quite similar to those in Portland, with deconstruction required for homes built before a particular date. However, it appears this policy was created with little community input outside the city aldermen who sponsored it. Implementation of this policy has had a rocky start.

The city itself has been the owner of most of the homes demolished in recent years (to deal with abandoned housing issues); however, since the deconstruction requirement began, the city has virtually stopped building removal because of the increased cost of deconstructing. We will continue to watch this program, to see if adjustments to the policy result in greater acceptance and smoother functioning.

We think that the time may be coming soon for Seattle to consider policies that would further increase the practice of deconstruction and building materials, and we hope to learn from the experience of Portland and Milwaukee and other local governments.