Framework for Regenerative Infrastructure
This guide provides a framework that local governments can use to apply a regenerative infrastructure approach work with natural systems and manage energy, water and waste. Strategies, tools and technologies are organized into four broad categories:
- Integrated Land Use Planning
- Integrated Waste Management
- Supportive Policies
- Waste to Gas
- Waste Heat Recovery
- District Energy
- Integrated Renewables
- Restore & Conserve Natural Assets
- Green Stormwater Infrastructure
- Wastewater Reclamation
- Organics to Nutrients
Inspirations & Interconnections
The regenerative infrastructure approach is not a stand-alone concept – it intersects with other initiatives within BC and globally. The approach:
- Shares a foundation with the circular economy and concept of zero waste
- Is a step along the path towards regenerative communities
- Aligns with national initiatives supporting the integration of natural capital into asset management
- Aligns with the BC Framework for Sustainable Service Delivery in terms of process and decision-making
Zero Waste and the Circular Economy
One of the goals of the circular economy is to transition away from a linear model of waste management toward nature-inspired, closed, circular systems that generate no waste. The basic principles of the circular economy can be applied to any product, service, or process. The focus is on preventing waste disposal and capturing the full, ongoing value of every resource. Waste prevention starts with rethinking product and system design, then re-using, recycling and recovering materials and other resources. Jurisdictions around the world are advancing the transition towards a circular economy and are seeing the benefits of reduced operating costs, new revenue sources, and an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The government of British Columbia has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 2007 levels by 2050, along with legislated interim reduction targets. In 2019, the Province introduced CleanBC, with initiatives that include targets for cleaner transportation, more efficient buildings, less carbon-dependent heat sources, 95% organic waste diversion and 75% landfill gas capture as well as workforce training to allow it to lead this transition.. Details on the policies and programs adopted by the Province are available on the CleanBC website.
Future actions may include developing a waste-to-resource strategy and further increasing organics diversion from landfills. The concepts, tools and techniques presented in this guide represent some of the ways local governments can contribute to a broad waste-to-resource strategy that is part of the shift towards a thriving circular economy.
The “5 R” pollution prevention hierarchy prioritizes waste management actions that lead to zero waste. It goes beyond the familiar 3 R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to include Recovery and Residuals Management. Most strategies in this guide are within the 4th R: Recovery. The tools and techniques featured in this guide recover materials and energy from waste resource streams to produce new value. t the same time, the scope of this guide moves beyond the 4th R, by providing examples of systems that capture “wasted opportunities”, such as the electricity generation potential within drinking water supply systems.
The World Future Council’s Regenerative Cities program seeks to transform the operation of cities from an inefficient and wasteful linear system into a resource-efficient and circular system. Going beyond simply maintaining or sustaining the environment, regenerative cities enhance and restore natural systems within and beyond urban boundaries. Regenerative cities not only minimize their environmental impact, they actively improve and regenerate the ecosystems on which they depend.
Communities of all sizes can adopt the vision of Regenerative Cities, which includes shifting from a linear “metabolism” to a circular one by recognizing value in outputs conventionally regarded as waste.
Regenerative cities close resource loops by:
- Reintroducing treated water into the hydrologic cycle
- Sourcing food from local producers
- Capturing nutrients from sewage and waste and applying them to surrounding agricultural land
- Dramatically reducing dependence on fossil fuels and boosting the deployment of renewable energy sources
Closing resource loops in a municipality’s own operations and infrastructure is just one part of the pathway towards a regenerative community. However, focusing on eliminating and capturing waste from local government-owned infrastructure is often the first and easiest step a municipality can take, and one that immediately results in new value to the community.
Guiding Principles of the Regenerative Infrastructure Approach
1. Follow the pollution prevention hierarchy
First, prevent, then reduce, reuse and recycle waste. Next, recover waste resources for the benefit of the community that produced them, as close as possible to the source, factoring in transportation costs and emissions.
2. View every waste as a potential resource
Almost all waste has the potential to create value, whether recycled into a new material, captured to reduce dependence on external inputs, processed to extract nutrients, or converted to a source of energy.
3. Use each resource for its highest value
Waste can be recycled (e.g. metal cans back into cans), down-cycled (e.g. glass used as road base) or up-cycled (e.g. kitchen waste digested to biomethane). Guided by "highest and best use", the value gained from each of these processes should be analyzed to determine which is most appropriate, and should expand beyond monetary value. There may be other needs of the community that should factor in to how resources are used.
4. Use each resource more than once
Resource streams can provide multiple benefits. After using a resource for its highest value, there may be opportunities to extract further value still.
5. Integrate system boundaries
Options for harnessing value from waste increase when system boundaries are viewed more broadly. In nature, the boundaries between ecosystem types are usually the most productive and provide the most services. The same principle applies to regenerative infrastructure. Boundaries include those between natural and human-made systems, private and public assets, and internal organizational divisions. Understanding how one system integrates with others is key to a regenerative infrastructure approach.
6. Consider the entire system lifecycle
The business case of a potential infrastructure project can become more favourable when the potential to generate revenue is analysed in addition to the capital and operating costs of the project. The entire lifecycle of the infrastructure project should be analysed in terms of economic, environmental, and social impact.