Growing amounts of wood waste
by Brian R. Hook
With new buildings
going up and old buildings coming down at a record pace across
the country – generating tons of construction-and-demolition
debris – it is easy to make the assumption that wood waste
is a growing segment within the waste industry.
hit a record of $1.185 trillion in February, according to the
United States Commerce Department. Construction spending grew
0.8 percent over January and by 7.4 percent over February last
year. Non-residential construction increased 9.6 percent. Residential
construction jumped 7.1 percent. Public construction gained 6
Where is all
the wood waste from these construction projects going? Finding
numbers to back up the assumption that wood waste is growing is
not easy. No government agency or trade group regularly tracks
wood waste. Those that do track C&D debris, consisting of
steel to concrete debris, do not break out wood waste separately.
LETCO Group L.P., which operates facilities throughout Texas,
processes a small amount of wood waste from construction. Mark
Rose, area president, said wood waste is processed into fuel and
is usually burned by paper mills.
say that volume is up,” Rose said. Construction in the Dallas
and Houston markets has been strong for a long time, he said.
“Wood waste is very regional due to a very low sales price
and high transportation costs,” Rose said.
recycles mostly tree trimmings, grass clippings and leaves, is
a subsidiary of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Republic Services
Inc. The solid-waste company, which serves markets in 21 states,
does not break out the results for its subsidiaries like LETCO.
Republic Services also does not reveal C&D amounts.
It is a similar
story at Houston-based Waste Management Services (WM), the country’s
largest solid-waste company. “We have C&D landfills
all across the country and have waste-to-energy plants that sometimes
turn wood waste into energy by burning – but that’s
all in the normal course of business,” said Lynn Brown,
vice president of corporate communications. She said WM does not
track wood waste. “We would have to call each of our more
than 300 landfills individually. That’s simply impractical,”
The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency reports that the country generated 12.7 million
tons of wood waste in 2000. Roxanne Smith, an EPA spokeswoman,
confirmed that the regulatory agency has not compiled any new
numbers sine then.
The six-year old numbers reveal
that wood comprises the largest percent of the residential C&D
waste stream – approximately 42 percent. The EPA reports
that markets for recovered wood vary across the country. But the
market is dominated by mulch and fuel applications. Wood waste
from C&D is attractive as fuel because of its low moisture
content. Processed or chipped wood is used as composting and as
Salvage or reused wood products
are the highest value items, according to the EPA. But this type
of recovered wood requires the highest costs for sorting and processing.
The EPA said that a major barrier to increased wood recovery is
the lack of grade standards for recovered wood. The EPA said there
is also a need for technical performance testing to investigate
the structural integrity of recovered wood.
“I’m not an expert
on wood waste. However an increase in wood waste supply –
from disasters and home construction – is a no brainer,”
said Chaz Miller, director of recycling, at the National Solid
Waste Management Association, in Washington D.C.
“What may not have increased
is the recovery rate. Much of the damaged material from hurricanes
was commingled,” he said, citing the urgency behind the
Laura Niles, a spokeswoman for
EPA Region 4, which covers the Southeast, said the environmental
agency did not collect vegetative or building debris following
last year’s hurricanes. She said the EPA’s involvement
was primarily to collect and dispose of hazardous waste in the
form of propane tanks, batteries, paint, flammable materials,
corrosives, chlorine, pesticides, waste oil, household chemicals
and other chemical waste.
Niles said Hurricane Katrina
and Hurricane Rita created a very large amount of debris along
the Gulf Coast. She said she saw estimates of about 46 million
cubic yards of waste.
Niles said the U.S. Federal Emergency
Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handled
the wood waste.
Neither agency provided numbers.
The Energy Information Agency, a statistical agency of the U.S.
Department of Energy, estimates wood waste that is turned into
fuel. The EIA estimates wood waste both from direct use of harvested
wood as fuel and from wood waste streams.
Wood waste can be used to generate
electric power and thermal output. This type of wood waste comes
from a wide variety of sources, including forestland, land clearing,
urban trees and landscape residues, according to the EIA. Another
resource of wood waste includes manufacturing and wood processing
wastes, as well as C&D debris.
The EIA reports that the largest
source of energy from wood is pulping liquor, a waste product
from the processing of the pulp, paper and paperboard. Many wood
and paper manufactures, like Stamford, Connecticut-based International
Paper Company, use wood waste to produce their own steam and electricity.
These companies do not reveal
their fuel mix, citing competitive reasons, making it hard to
The EIA estimates that in 2005
there was16.87 billion-kilowatt hours of generating capacity from
wood and other biomass. Biomass energy is derived from wood, waste
and alcohol fuel. The EIA does not separate them out in its estimates.
The statistical agency expects
the biomass energy to grow to 57.83 billion-kilowatt hours by
2030 – making it a 7.2 percent average annual growth from
2004 to 2030.