City of Charlotte looks to become global sustainability leader through Circular Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The city of Charlotte is pioneering a bold new effort designed to produce zero waste and hundreds of jobs.

City leaders presented Circular Charlotte at Johnson C. Smith University.

Circular Charlotte is a unique waste diversion strategy that has the potential to be an economic driver for the Queen City.

The city of Charlotte is investing $2 million in a new Innovation Barn in the Belmont neighborhood.

Entrepreneurs and city employees will be able to use the facility to launch sustainable startups.

City Manager Marcus Jones said Charlotte is the first city in the United States to adopt the circular economy as a public sector strategy.

"Think about all the cities that are struggling with what to do with their waste and what to do with their trash. We even have other countries that are not accepting our recycling," Jones said. "We have a resource that we are throwing away."

Solid Waste Director Victoria Johnson estimates the city produces more than 400,000 tons of a trash each year. Of all of that waste, only 11 percent is reused.

"We are looking to up that number to be as close to zero waste as possible," Johnson said. "Almost everything that is thrown away has some use for it. It is just finding what that use is."

That's where the Innovation Barn comes in. The city has partnered with Envision Charlotte to lease the space and recruit entrepreneurs.

At an event at Johnson C. Smith University on Thursday afternoon, the city of Charlotte presented different business cases that will be put to use in the Innovation Barn.

They include:

  • Creating hundreds of jobs by developing a circular industry based on feeding 50,000 tons of food waste to black soldier fly larvae, which can be converted into pellets to use as feed on North Carolina poultry farms.
  • Saving hundreds of thousands of gallons of water by developing a closed-loop textiles chain for linens and uniforms used in hotels and hospitals, cutting demand for environmentally damaging cotton and polyester production and offering opportunities to work in a whole new industry.
  • Providing entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to afford to develop their circular economy business ideas with equipment, expert advice and commercial feedback to develop circular economy business ideas at a startup incubator based at the Innovation Barn.
  • Averting carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by transforming concrete from demolition sites and powder created from discarded glass into new concrete, also creating new jobs.

Councilman Larken Egleston said that, like FinTech, the circular economy concept has the potential to be an emerging industry

"These are the kind of things a city that wants to be on the cutting edge needs to be working on," Egleston said. "In terms of the environment and sustainability, we want places where people can have an idea and plant that seed and let it grow."

The city of Charlotte has a contractual obligation to take any trash put out at the curb to the dump. Because of this, the Innovation Barn will likely solicit donations of certain waste to be used for projects and startups.

Johnson said the Innovation Barn may look to incentivize recycling by partnering with businesses to offer discounts or coupons in exchange for items. An example of this could be a partnership with a grocery store to collect plastic bags in exchange for discounts.

The Innovation Barn is expected to open in summer 2019.

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