University of Georgia
April 2015
Sustainability
Reusing the waste and creating new landscapes

Chris McDowell, director of the UGA Material Reuse Program, received his Master of Landscape Architecture from UGA in 2012. “Humans have set up a system where waste is something that you remove and it’s a liability, but instead, what we’re saying is it’s not a liability—it’s actually something that can be harnessed and used and harvested,” he said. “There is a value in the material, and there’s a value in not just throwing it away.”

Reusing the waste and creating new urban landscapes

UGA's Materials Reuse Program breathes life into old building parts, teaches community sustainability.

Chris McDowell, coordinator of the Material Reuse Program at the University of Georgia, gives old building parts a new life cycle by reusing them for community projects.

Material Reuse is a pilot project of UGA’s College of Environment and Design, which salvages materials from construction and demolition sites, reclaiming them for landscape projects.

“The main purpose of the program is to divert construction waste from the landfill and to use it in community projects,” McDowell said.

McDowell began the program as a graduate student in the landscape architecture program at UGA in 2010 after moving to Georgia from Louisiana. “When I moved here, I had run a salvage program before,” he said. “As a design student, I started realizing the same stuff that I did down there could be done here.”

McDowell started sourcing materials sustainably from projects that were being taken down.

“The program is just a small group of individuals, and we take about 150 tons of waste every year and try to disperse it,” McDowell said.

Material Reuse projects typically collect materials from different renovation and construction projects on campus, but McDowell will occasionally work with private projects outside of campus as well—such as apartments being renovated.

Material Reuse clients are usually community groups that don’t have access to their own resources for projects.

McDowell and other Material Reuse members will meet with clients, assess their needs and plan their project based on the materials they have available.

Past projects have included an Athens-Clarke County outdoor classroom, which was built for fourth-grade students studying decomposers. The site is also used for bird watching and was made from materials from a salvage yard.

The Jardin Comunitario Pinewoods is another recent project, where students built an outdoor space made primarily from reclaimed or natural materials at the Pinewoods community.

Material Reuse also builds layers onto past projects—adding onto projects that may already be done by previous students, McDowell said. “The idea is to build continuity.”

The Design Build Lab is an elective course at UGA available to interested students and taught by McDowell, where students participate in Material Reuse projects. “They are each project managers—they coordinate labor, materials and construction,” McDowell said

Each student has a client in the community, usually a community group, and they plan out their own projects.

“It’s a mobile lab where you go out and experiment with materials. Students from different majors are in the class, but they come together to learn about how to incorporate sustainability in the community,” McDowell said. “We have a number of different projects that are always ongoing.”

Materials that are used during these projects consist of what McDowell describes as C and D waste—construction and demolition waste—from sites on the UGA campus. “We’re keeping it in-house, and we’re using it for instructional material,” McDowell said. “We don’t have huge budgets, so we have to use what we have. We have to be judicious how we use the material.”

McDowell and his students either use materials from selective salvage—where a small amount of materials is used from a site—or from full deconstruction projects—completely taking the building apart. The waste that is collected is used for student projects or for other Material Reuse projects, and nothing gets thrown away.

“Humans have set up a system where waste is something that you remove and it’s a liability, but instead, what we’re saying is it’s not a liability—it’s actually something that can be harnessed and used and harvested,” McDowell said. “There is a value in the material, and there’s a value in not just throwing it away.”

For more information on the Material Reuse Program, visit www.thematerialreuseprogram.com.

— Sydney Devine, UGA News Service