Many environmental business leaders involved in water restoration, waste management, and recycling now envision the 21st century as one that will be full of opportunity to turn waste into highly sought after resources. For example, phosphorus recycling is one consideration already at the forefront, given the important role it plays in agriculture. This process is promising because of its attempt to mitigate eutrophication while also demanding a high resale value. Electronic waste recycling is another major industry in focus today because of the relatively high value of recycled heavy metals associated with specific hardware. Many electronic centers, and even communities in developing countries, are now claiming electronic waste recycling as a major source of income. I believe many more systems will soon be in place to recycle and resell waste streams we think are of little value today.
The waste to resource transformation is also being seen on a larger scale with certain government policies and systems such as carbon credits, reforestation REDD++ initiatives, and costs associated with point source pollution. Once discarded infrastructure is also transforming into public spaces for the creation of much needed natural settings and artistic expression (Zone 9, City River Restoration at its Best). City spaces are also being modified for urban agriculture, given the rising competitive advantage to grow fresh produce closer to city centers (Gotham Greens, Urban Organics, NYC Bioswales).
A new strategy has now been developed to restore wetlands, an often neglected natural community, while also generating a profit. A federal rule established in 2008 specifically states that when development removes a wetland from existence, a new wetland needs to be created or restored on a comparable piece of property in the same watershed. This policy was mainly implemented for storm mitigation and conservation purposes. Ecosystem Investment Partners has created a strategy to help developers satisfy these new demands. They have recently invested $181 million to help restore over 16,500 acres of wetland in Louisiana. The aim of this investment is to create a bank of wetland restoration credits that developers can purchase when needed.
Each acre of wetland will be worth one credit. Credit prices will be negotiated between buyer and seller, depending on availability of other projects in the same watershed, ability for other developers to meet requirements, and how urgently a buyer needs to satisfy new wetland requirements.
Ecosystem Investment Partners is also spending $30 million to create wetlands where they previously existed. This is being completed by transporting silt from the floor of Lake Borgne and depositing it into semi-open water, resulting in mud flats that foster spartina grass growth. This is an unsightly project, but one that will ultimately protect the state from further hurricane damage, provide more general wildlife habitat, and position Ecosystem Investment Partners as a leader in this field (Schwartz 2014).
This is a project with large-scale ambition that I believe adequately addresses conservation and development goals simultaneously. This type of restoration and credit selling strategy goes leaps and bounds beyond most storm mitigation efforts the public recognize: the storm water ponds on sides of parking lots, or the rain gardens and drainage ditches often found near new roads. This is also an incredibly important initiative for Louisiana’s welfare, given the probably of continued storm surges in the area. Louisiana has lost wetlands in total spanning the size of Delaware (Schwartz 2014).
Schwartz, John. 2014. Equity Firm Restores Louisiana Marshland to Earn Credits It Can Sell. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/us/equity-firm-restores-louisiana-marshland-to-earn-credits-it-can-sell.html>.
All Photos are credited to William Widmer and Rush Jagoe of The New York Times.