Two years ago, Diane DeLillio of Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment became aware of an issue that led her to develop a nearly 2 million dollar innovation. Diane is an Environmental Administrator in the Environmental Quality division of DDPHE, and she primarily oversees soil quality testing. She also engages with most development contracts in the City and County of Denver to test the soil quality for projects that are required to break ground. With Denver’s trend of steady construction work, she and her team have had consistent engagement with these projects over the last few years.

In early 2017, Diane and her supervisor Zach Clayton noticed that some third-party contractors were asking for clean, excess soil to use for their projects. This was because many of these contractors were hauling away a significant amount of soil to the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site (landfill) for each project, under the impression that the soil was toxic and therefore not allowable per the city’s environmental guidelines.

Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

“Just about 4,100 trucks worth of soil would have been disposed of this year”

To give an example of how much was being hauled away from city projects to landfills, imagine an 18-wheeler truck that is filled to the brim with soil. The thought of so much decent soil being wasted gave Diane a brilliant idea: create a Soil Reuse Guidance Document and make it standard in City development contracts (of which there are many).

How did this simple innovation end up saving taxpayers around $1.9 million dollars this year? It gave construction contractors clear guidance on how to determine if their soil is contaminated or not, which has considerably reduced the amount of wasted non-toxic soil. Therefore, most of the soil that would have been transported to the landfill can now be kept and safely reused, thanks to this helpful guidance.

“Another benefit of this environmentally friendly innovation is the avoided hauling mileage.”

As stated previously, these large trucks would drive back and forth between the development sites and the Arapahoe landfill. If not for the reuse guidance, about 150,000 miles would have been driven this year to dump the soil, which results in a savings of about 350 metric tons of C02 emissions. The soil transportation also happens to be a large cost burden, which is why we are seeing significant financial returns.

Diane and Zach have both been through the Peak Academy Green Belt training, and were compelled to notify the Peak team of the innovation after their Executive Director, Bob McDonald, announced the goal of having each employee at DDPHE become Green Belt trained and certified by July of 2019. Diane’s creativity and her department’s focus on innovation have combined to deliver a true value to the City and County of Denver, and the environment.

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