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Eugene Weekly : 4.19.07

Building the Eco-Future

CONFERENCE BRINGS TOGETHER ARTISTS, ARCHITECTS, COMMUNITY

by Suzi Steffen

Dirt installation by Carl Liebhardt
Maya Lin's Confluence Project

Women in war-torn nations won't have to walk 30 miles a day for water.

Buildings will limit global warming while making bold artistic statements.

Communities will make plans and get their hands into the dirt.

And the parties at day's end? Those parties will rock.

Or so run the visions of students at the UO's School of Architecture and Allied Arts in charge of the Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability (HOPES) conference, which starts Thursday, April 19, and runs through Sunday, April 22. They say that one of the strengths of this unique conference lies in its focus on creating solutions.

"That's the thing that keeps me coming back — I leave so energized," says conference director John Pete. Pete, a fifth-year undergrad who's dealing with his most complex final projects at the same time that he runs the conference, exudes love for the whole dang thing. And what's not to love? It's about practical people saving the planet. This year's theme, reflected in the art installations popping up outside and inside of Lawrence Hall, is "Confluence: Where Water Meets Design."

HOPES began in 1995 after architecture student Kevin Parker, stunned that the UO didn't focus on ecologically sound design, decided to make that focus explicit. The weekend event now attracts well over 500 people from as far as Namibia and as close as downtown Eugene.

Energy swirls high when the conference begins with a "24-hour charrette." Teams receive an eminently practical design assignment — last year, it was creating a garden for North Eugene High School's outdoor ed and childhood development programs — and then have exactly 24 hours until the design review, says conference organizer Peter Henne. Henne is a sophomore who runs HOPES' sponsoring organization, the Ecological Design Center. He talks about this year's water-focused charrette with the fervor of one who knows whereof he speaks — he moved to the wet Willamette Valley from the dry lands of New Mexico.

A simple clay pot mixes political, ecological and social needs for this year's challenge. Potters for Peace, an international group, created a pot that can filter and purify water, but the teams will have to take that idea up a level: They'll turn an average shipping container into a portable clay pot factory.

The design, says Henne, will serve as more than just a place where people in crisis situations (New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or villages near ecological disaster sites) can snag a pot, made from local clay, that will make clean water. Henne says the portable factories will be "an identifiable place for the community to meet" and learn to make and use the pots. That means graphic design elements — clear, attractive signs that translate without language — will be just as important as the practical manufacturing bit.

Community members are welcome to participate in the sleep-depriving process that begins at 2 pm Thursday, April 19, Henne says. Conference designers practically tremble with eagerness to get underway. "I'm so stoked about the charrette!" says John Pete.

But Pete and Henne say there's much more to the conference, from theory to actual dirt; from keynote speaker Joan Nassauer, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Michigan, to the "Ancient Art of Indigo-dyeing" workshop. And although artist Maya Lin (famous for the Vietnam Memorial design) couldn't make it to the conference, Henne is happy to host a representative of Lin's massive Columbia River art-and-community-work, the Confluence Project (www.confluenceproject.org).

Conference director Pete loves the opportunities for hands-on work and play during the entire weekend. On Saturday, conference attendees can help build a bioswale in the parking lot near Johnson Hall. A bioswale traps surface pollutants and deals with them using plants, compost and riprap, so that the water going into storm drains ends up cleaner and healthier. Sunday brings a workshop on taking rain from your winter rooftop and storing it for the dry-as-a-green-banana summer.

And there's childcare that's both fun and educational. In kids' HOPES, children play, seriously, with eco-design. From the "Xtreme stream simulation" to building the bioswale to that indigo dyeing workshop, young ones can learn and enjoy, says coordinator Kris Day.

The conference reaches far beyond Eugene. With keynote speaker Nina Maritz, an architect from Namibia; students from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.; and professionals flying in from Korea and Australia, HOPES isn't just about the students in triple-A. Faculty adviser Brook Muller, an associate professor of architecture, says the conference creates a buzz among universities across the country. He adds that the AAA faculty "recognize the incredible benefit that the students offer to this program through their hard work."

Workshops and keynote speeches make up part of a more traditional academic conference component, with titles like "Formless but Flat, Fearsome but Figurative." But Pete emphasizes that the conference isn't only for theory-heads. "What's so unique is that it's a solution-based approach; we're getting over the hump of the problem because we're exploring and refining solutions."

And the parties: On Saturday night, after a daylong opportunity to build reclaimed-material costumes, both kids and adults get their creativity on during the Trashy Fashion Show. Artists of various stripes share their groove. Last year, a group of dancers created a "dance installation" with used bicycle tubes and performed through and among their creations during the party. This year, music and art installations will again combine with eco-relaxation. "That's how it is," Henne says, "just awesome!"

HOPES combines practical applications of ecological design thinking with down-to-Earth ways of solving problems, gorgeous art installations and professional networking for the good of the planet. Design a lifesaving factory, build a bioswale, open your mind with some theory and party for the planet — whatever your interest, Pete says, just get to the UO this weekend. "Anybody who comes can find an avenue and can find a passion."       

To register for the HOPES conference, which is free to UO students, staff and faculty, $15 for non-UO educators and $25 for community members, visit hopes.uoregon.edu

 

 

REDUCE, REUSE, RE-SHRINKWRAP

A Q&A with Weyerhaeuser's recycling guru

BY NICOLE FANCHER

Here in Lane County, where most curbside recycling is commingled in a single bin, it's almost easier to recycle than to trash. But plastics complicate recycling efforts. Since there are limitless different grades of plastic, one recycling method won't work for them all. Sanipac's curbside service only takes grades #1-7 (soda bottles, detergent jugs), excluding #6 (things like meat trays). Other plastics — such as the shrinkwrap that packages Eugene Weekly newspapers — must go elsewhere. EW takes shrinkwrap to Weyerhaeuser's drop-off site in Glenwood, a plastic recycling service that the company started five years ago. On an average day, we see plastic chairs, toys, greenhouse film, plastic flowerpots, poly seed bags and lumber wrap hanging out in the recycling bins.

Weyerhaeuser's Recycling Account Manager Lorena Young pioneered the plastic recycling program by finding markets for plastics that ended up in the waste stream. EW was curious about what happened to our plastic and interviewed Young by email. The following Q&A highlights Weyerhaeuser's fast-growing program and helps explain the complicated world of plastic recycling. — Nicole Fancher

 

Why did Weyerhaeuser make the move to plastics recycling?

For years, recycling everyday plastics, such as milk jugs, orange juice containers and detergent bottles, has been a goal of recyclers throughout the country, including Weyerhaeuser. Because we were already in the recycling business and already working with many haulers and recyclers, adding plastics to our paper recycling efforts made sense in terms of logistics. It was a natural transition, and it was the right thing to do.

Effective recycling requires all three legs of the stool to be stable: viable markets, cost effective collection and suitable transportation. A primary driver behind the recycling of plastics is access to viable markets. These markets have grown both domestically and in China with its demands for raw materials. … Many counties are hard pressed to find new opportunities for waste diversion to meet their DEQ diversion goals. Recyclable plastic that is still in the waste stream is a logical target. There are many grades of plastics that are recyclable when collected separately that are not suitable for recycling in the commingle process.

 

What prompted you to approach local businesses five years ago to participate in a pilot recycling program?

Markets for plastic film came knocking. Domestic users of shrinkwrap were looking for a supply of film to make various building products such as the ChoiceDeck, which are deck boards made of plastic and wood fiber. Some of Weyerhaeuser's existing account base included warehouses, grocery stores and others that generated used shrink wrap. So adding this additional grade of plastic for recycling where we were already providing recycling services made sense. It also made economic sense for these businesses because it reduced waste.

 

Are there any local markets for the plastic Weyerhaeuser recycles?

We do work with one Willamette Valley plastic recycler that processes a variety of rigid plastics, including the high-density polyethylene lumber wrap cores.

 

What makes Weyerhaeuser's plastic recycling program unique?

For Lane County and the Eugene/Springfield area specifically, Weyerhaeuser provides the widest range of recycling options for plastic and paper as well. Curbside commingle programs are based on a specific recipe of recyclables that are sorted out at material recovery facilities in Portland, but they do not accommodate many specific types or forms of plastic. What's unique about our plastic recycling program is there is an opportunity to match source-separated plastic and paper commodities with appropriate markets.

 

What are the most common grades of plastics recycled? How many different grades do you take?

That's a complicated question. Though there may be a shorter list of plastics as defined by the 1 to 7 codes you see stamped on the bottom of plastic containers, there are potentially hundreds of distinct markets based on form, quality, quantity and cost. For example, plastic film markets may be specific to a type of film such as clean clear shrinkwrap or specific to an industry such as the grass seed industry that recycles polypropylene seed bags and bulk bags. Sometimes if there is enough of a specific plastic, we go looking for a specific market. Other flows of plastics may end up in a mixed plastic grade, which would include plastic lawn furniture, large plastic toys and other plastic items.

 

What kinds of products can recycled plastic be made into?

Recycled plastic can be chipped and used in making all sorts of plastic products from extruded plastic parts to building products. There are thousands of products produced with some or all recycled plastic content, which makes sense with the rising cost of virgin plastic that is tied to petroleum pricing. For example, chopped plastic lumber strapping can go back to U.S. and Canadian companies to be remade into new lumber strapping. Many manufacturers of containers for liquid products, such as laundry detergent, use recycled plastic.

 

Weyerhaeuser sends to export markets in India and China; what kinds of businesses desire recycled plastics?

There are hundreds of thousands of plastic recyclers in China feeding a gigantic manufacturing enterprise that generates products for building the Chinese infrastructure and providing products for Chinese consumption. China also makes products produced for export to the rest of the world.

 

How do you ensure that the businesses you work with are processing plastics with environmentally sound practices?

We do not and cannot control the business practices of our customers. That responsibility lies with government and regulatory agencies.

 

What is your goal with the recycling program? How do you plan on expanding it?

Our goal is to expand recycling for both paper and plastic still in the waste stream. Much of this is accomplished by getting the message out that there still are recyclables in the waste stream. If businesses think the only thing they can recycle is what goes into a commingle container, they're often stepping over many opportunities to pull recyclables from their waste stream. And, in some cases, they can make revenue on the recyclables they were paying to dispose.

 

Go Big Green?

BASKETBALL ARENA COULD BE ECOLOGICALLY SOUND

by Camilla Mortensen

Plans are under way again for the construction of a basketball arena to replace McArthur Court, also known as "The Pit." But will the new arena be a "green" arena?

A recent Sports Illustrated cover story highlighted the effects of global warming on sports and discussed what sports teams are doing to become carbon neutral and conserve energy. Among its many examples was Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. Gillette features a water system that collects and recirculates wastewater from rinsing and flushing.

New UO Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny is specifically charged with "reviving the new basketball arena project" according to a statement by UO President Dave Frohnmayer.

The UO may be required to build its new basketball arena to a high standard of sustainability. Oregon Senate Bill 576, now under consideration, proposes requiring state facility projects to be designed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard. If this bill passes, the new arena would appear to fall under its effects.

More than 130 architects showed up in Salem to advocate for the sustainable buildings bill. Brook Muller, an architecture professor at the UO, said he was excited at the recent "incredible demonstration of the commitment of architects in Oregon to solving issues of global warming, sustainability and carbon neutrality."

Several sports teams including the Minnesota Twins, the University of Minnesota Gophers and the Washington, D.C.. Nationals have announced intentions to build their new sports stadiums to LEED standards, and all are in a race to be the first to do it, according to press sources.

LEED standards follow a system of points with 26 points allowing a building to be LEED certified. For the silver standard, buildings need 33 points, 39 for gold and 52 for platinum. Buildings achieve points in areas such as sustainable sites, water efficiency and innovation and design process. The new arena could earn at least one point for its proximity to public transportation: The proposed Franklin Boulevard site is right off the new EmX bus route.

While higher costs may be a concern if high sustainability becomes mandatory for state buildings, Muller said in his own experience "green does not necessarily mean you are going to spend more," and "if problems are considered early, we could save money in upfront costs and in the long term." This could be achieved, he said, "through designing a building with natural ventilation, thus saving money by downsizing the need for mechanical ventilation."

The current UO arena budget was estimated at well above $200 million in a recent Register-Guard article. Most of the money will come from private gifts.

UO Associate Athletic Director Steve McBride did not return EW calls about plans for a "green" arena. However, the current UO Sustainable Development Plan calls for new construction to achieve "the equivalence of at least the base level of LEED certification," and says, "Generally, new construction must meet the point equivalent of a LEED Silver rating."

Projects do not have to comply if there is "a compelling reason why this is not possible."

According to Muller, if sustainability is planned into the arena project from the beginning, "problems can be solved gracefully."

The UO chose TVA Architects in Portland as the architectural firm for the new arena, which TVA refers to on its website as "a world-class 'theater for basketball.'" TVA is also the firm that designed the Nike Air Hangar (housing Nike's fleet of corporate jets), the Nike World Campus and the Nike Campus North Expansion, in addition to many other Nike projects. Locally, TVA designed the Hayward Field Renovation and the new Williams Bakery. The TVA website reports that the UO assisted in paying for design and construction of the bakery. However, as a private building, it was apparently not required to meet the UO's sustainable building standards.

A TVA representative said he "really couldn't say" anything about plans for a green, sustainable or carbon-neutral basketball arena. The plans for the arena, he said, are "conceptual." Though discussion of sustainable design and user input is called for in the UO Sustainable Development plan, the representative said, "It is not something I am able to discuss." He refused to provide his name.

But it's still possible that the UO's planned world-class arena will be a green, sustainable and carbon neutral version of The Pit in which so many exciting games have been played.