USING THE WASTE STREAM TO PREVENT THE WASTING OF YOUNG LIVES
By Maximo DeCastro Blake, Orange Environment Waste Coordinator
Many American towns and cities have two continuous streams of valuable but underutilized assets. First are the tons of reusable materials being wasted, land-filled or burned, thus destroying valuable materials and inevitably polluting the environment. Second are the large numbers of unemployed youth with little opportunity on the horizon. Left to their own devises youth are frequently led astray by bad ideas or by their labor being sought after by questionable enterprises, both of which can be said to pollute the environment. It is society’s responsibility to provide sustainable paths for its youth toward productive adulthood and to protect the environment for them and future generations. What constructive synergy of these streams is possible? These two realities can be organized into sustainable enterprises. Such enterprises offer employment, training and future development while environmentally and socially vital results are achieved.
One example of a sustainable enterprise is in the construction industry. American towns and cities frequently have abandoned housing and commercial properties in need of renovation or demolition. Rundown properties and unemployed youth become fodder for illegal activities for which the police, courts and fire departments and ultimately the taxpayer must spend resources to control. Instead, the renovation and or demolition of buildings can be used to train youth in teamwork, respect for more skilled authorities, manual labor skills and tool use. The resulting renovated building, or cleared property, and the trained workers, contribute to the economic and social health of the area. The overall short term and longer term cost of training these youth and correctly handing these properties is much less than the cost of allowing both to follow unsustainable paths.
Income generated from the sale of the recyclable or reusable salvage generated by the renovation or demolition process can be used to support part of the cost of the training. Unlike most renovation or demolition processes, trainees would be instructed and supervised to manually disassemble properties of any sellable items or building components. Usually, construction contractors do not have the time to dismantle a building or its components and just crush and landfill the construction and/or demolition debris.
Marketing of the salvaged items is a second skill area where youth can have real experience that can also lead to self or business employment. Some of the young workers will come with direct or indirect experience from selling “hot” merchandise. Exposure to the higher margins and lower personal risks of legitimate enterprise can be an eye opener for many. The income generated by such sales contributes to supporting the operating costs of the training. Even subsidized, the value to the municipality and society, as a whole is overwhelmingly profitable and sustainable.
After the proper authorities permit a property to be used by this type of program, the initial step is to strip the properties of any items or building components that are sellable. Ironically, this process is extremely similar to that of burglary where the thieves do a similar process but without the permission of the owners. Handling these properties correctly can be a significant overall cost saving to a municipality as the worker/trainees move on to employment with skills and experience and the real estate’s marketability has significantly increased. Of course, all of this work requires supervision by knowledgeable workers. In pilot programs of this kind, one professional to six trainees has been shown to be a workable ratio. Thus the projects generate employment for professionals in the field as well as entry level training positions. In addition, for many youth this can be the first working adult with whom they have had a positive relationship.
A second example of a sustainable enterprise based on this model is recycling/reusing abandoned vehicles and their components that litter our urban and rural landscapes. Frequently these vehicles will be illegally stripped in a rough manner ruining the value of components left behind or junked and shredded through the use of high energy consumption machines. While there is commercial competition for any high-end vehicles, there usually is little competition for the vehicles on low end of the continuum. However, these vehicles still have value both as raw materials and as training laboratories. Young workers can be taught hand and power tool use and the basic physics of internal combustion engines, drive trains and vehicle suspensions though the manual dismantling of the machines. The key to the process is the ability to earn a salary while training. As with construction, salvaged metals, motors, fluids, and used auto parts can be sold to generate income with which to pay the working trainees.
Again as with the construction example, skilled adult workers would have to be supervising the process so again the design generates work for skilled workers as well. Once a worker becomes competent through this type of program the goal is to help these youth find employment or to entrepreneurially create their own job and thus make room for new trainees.
Employers are always on the lookout for prescreened employees. The program as described can provide skill and reliability information to any potential employer. Also, since the trainees will frequently be working in areas where other contractors can observe them, access to employment opportunities is in close proximity. Potential employers will be able to observe them on the job and “steal “ the best workers for their own companies. Combining the potential of unemployed youth and under utilized materials in the waste stream can result in multiple benefits for all involved and society in general. All that is necessary is for society to look – see the opportunity and organize a solution.