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Eco-Friendly Waste Management Center Coming to Uptown

 A diagram showing the benefits of reusing organic waste.
A diagram showing the benefits of reusing organic waste.
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Cannon Design

UPTOWN — Uptown residents hoping to be a little more green could have a new place to bring their organic waste by the end of the year.

Multi-disciplinary design firm Cannon Design, and Virginia Tech's Chicago Studio architecture program are looking for a place to open the Center for Innovative Waste Processing in by the end of 2013.

The center would use a biodigester and other sustainable strategies to convert organic waste into natural gas and fertilizer for local use rather than hauling it to landfills to rot. Residents would bring their food scraps, yard clippings and other non-toxic waste to the center where it could eventually be used in community gardens.

Andrew Balster, director of the Chicago Studio, said Uptown is a community ripe for "urban investigation," especially given plans for the entertainment district and rebranding of the neighborhood.

"I look at Uptown as an area of focus because of its historical importance in the city but also because of the renewed energy that's really deep in the community. And I just see it as a gem of Chicago with an incredibly active voice," Balster said.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th)  and economic development organization Uptown United also back the initiative.

"Private partners will work with local government to manage this process and market the end products," Cappleman wrote in a letter of support for the project, adding that the project "will redefine what we've come to see as waste and help make the 46th ward more deeply connected to natural cycles."

Managing waste locally rather than having the city take it to a landfill reduces carbon emissions. It also harnesses methane gas that would otherwise be emitted from the landfill and pollute the atmosphere.

Timothy Swanson, urban strategist for Cannon Design, said the partners are looking for a densely populated part of Uptown near public transit to open the center.

Acquiring a biodigester and installing it could cost as much as $300,000, an amount organizers would gather through government grants and private funds, according to Balster, who said organizers want to see the project come to fruition "within 2013."

He said implementation of the project is scheduled to begin in fall and winter.

The project is looking to build partnerships in Uptown with local businesses (especially grocers) and community organizations.

The initiative is part of a broader project, "Living LIFE," which a news release described as "a comprehensive strategic plan for an environmental and systematic retrofit for American cities."

Their idea is to use one Chicago neighborhood as "the testing ground for a strategy to re-engineer the values of contemporary urban living, by proving that waste has a value both economically and socially."

Balster said the project has the potential for broader influence outside of Uptown: "the strongest benefit of this is the political latitude to allow for these things to happen," in other parts of Chicago and the rest of the country, he said.