There is no waste in nature. Energy, water and nutrients continuously cycle through nature’s systems – When no longer in use by one organism or process, they become valuable resources elsewhere.
Increasingly, local governments in BC and beyond are facing the challenge of balancing multiple priorities: providing much-needed community services and amenities, contributing to resilient and healthy communities, enabling local economic development, and meeting climate action commitments. Meanwhile, they are also facing challenges of aging infrastructure and financial constraints.
Regenerative Infrastructure is an approach to local government service delivery that addresses these challenges and brings value to the community by integrating land-use planning and infrastructure decisions, working with and enhancing nature’s systems, and utilizing Integrated Resource Recovery (IRR) technologies to recover energy and other resources previously wasted.
The Regenerative Infrastructure approach reduces operating costs, creates new revenue sources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and improves resiliency to climate change impacts, without compromising essential municipal services.
Integrating resource and energy recovery with municipal and community infrastructure requires a new way of thinking about waste and resources. At the heart of the Regenerative Infrastructure approach is a transition from linear processes towards circular systems that treat waste as a resource. The approach highlights Integrated Resource Recovery (IRR) technologies, which use outputs from municipal and industrial processes as inputs into additional processes, reducing costs and creating value. This approach also recognizes the value and services provided to communities from natural systems such as aquifers and wetlands, and supports their preservation.
Closing the Loop is a guide for local government elected officials and staff who want to explore the cost savings and other benefits that can
be realized by considering waste as a resource and natural systems as
valuable community assets that provide services.
When a regenerative infrastructure approach is used, plans for municipal infrastructure are developed in an integrated and holistic manner to maximize the recovery of “value” from what was previously considered to be waste.
The definition of waste extends beyond solid waste, or garbage. Waste is any potential resource that is not currently reused, recycled, or recovered; it includes storm and wastewater, biosolids, wet organic waste such as food waste and agricultural waste, and dry organic waste such as yard and wood waste. It also includes process energy that is wasted when it is released as unused heat, such as from the wastewater treatment process. These waste products can become resources for new processes, closing the loop.
Expanding the definition further, “waste” also includes wasted opportunities to capture energy from renewable sources. While this guide does not explore all stand-alone renewable energy opportunities such as solar and wind energy, it does include consideration of opportunities for capturing energy generated as a by-product of municipal processes and infrastructure.
The regenerative infrastructure approach has potential to contribute financial value by reducing operational costs and generating revenue by developing new, marketable products.
However, the value of regenerative infrastructure is not limited to financial gain. Capturing value from waste includes other quantifiable benefits – such as reduced energy consumption and lowered greenhouse gas emissions, less garbage in the landfill and improved air quality. It also includes other community benefits such as improved community health and resiliency to climate change impacts.
Changing the way we think about and manage “waste” has direct influence on energy and water systems, and on the environment and climate change. Likewise, the effects of climate change – including shifting patterns of precipitation and drought, extreme temperatures and weather events, threats to ecosystem health, and others – impact community resilience and pose new challenges to our energy, water and waste management systems.
Climate change is a complex problem without a singular solution. Mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving resiliency through climate change adaptation needs to be tackled by collaborative teams at all levels of government. The Bringing it Home section includes links to Provincial and Federal initiatives that support local government climate action and green infrastructure, including integrated resource recovery projects.
The regenerative infrastructure approach and the tools and technologies presented in this guide are just some of the ways that local governments can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their operations and enable the same for industry, residents and businesses.
Applying the regenerative infrastructure approach can be a component of local government climate change adaptation. By working with nature’s systems and implementing integrated resource recovery projects, communities can better withstand challenges posed by climate change, such as energy grid stability during extreme weather events and water shortages caused by drought and a reduced snow pack.
Regenerative Infrastructure – A small part of a big shift
Locally and globally, growing awareness of the complexity of climate change is sparking new ways of thinking about waste, energy and water. There is local and international momentum shifting our linear waste systems to circular, closed loop systems that keep valuable resources in use and produce no waste. Complementing this trajectory is a shift from centralized energy systems to distributed energy systems based on renewable energy and resource recovery.