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July 2004

Wood Recyclers Embrace Municipal Market
by James I. Miller

With the economic recovery in full swing, manufacturers of wood waste recycling equipment and independent wood waste recyclers alike are discovering new opportunities in the public sector. Faced with mounting pressures to divert wood and green waste material from landfills, communities from coast to coast are buying equipment or turning to privately owned specialized recycling service providers to process a wide variety of wood waste material. Scrap lumber, fallen branches and even discarded Christmas trees – everything must be disposed of.

That’s good news for Kevin Sullivan, project/marketing manager for southeast Michigan based Environmental Wood Solutions, Inc. His firm, established just four years ago, has grown to employ 20 full-time people today. “We process wood waste and yard trimmings for a number of communities in this part of the state,” said Mr. Sullivan. “About 11,000 tons per month are delivered to our facilities from contracted waste haulers. We grind the material and redistribute it for use as mulch, compost or other specialized applications,” he said. All of this material has been diverted from area landfills.

Among the specialty services they provide, Environmental Wood Solutions contracts with the state of Michigan and a number of independent rail carriers to recycle used railroad ties. According to Mr. Sullivan, “Last year, we processed more than 100,000 old railroad ties. The grind is sold as fuel for co-generation in electric power plants around the state. Recently, municipal electric service providers in Canada and Ohio contacted us to supply recycled wood fuel. The rise in oil prices have created a lot of new interest in recycled wood fuel to generate electricity,” he added.

Blue colored mulch from Amerimulch, Inc.Judd Hart is president and CEO of J. H. Hart Urban Forestry, Inc. of Sterling Heights, Michigan. His firm, founded in 1981, specializes in providing a wide range of wood and green waste recycling services to sizeable villages, towns and cities throughout the state. According to Mr. Hart, “Seventy-five percent of our revenue comes from municipal customers, but it wasn’t always like that. Over the years, we’ve developed a value-driven, full service approach to processing wood waste for communities that fits their style and preference for doing business. With a single call, municipal customers can get removal and grinding, mulch production for landscaping city properties, or custom solutions to special wood waste problems,” he said. Some of the communities he serves include Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Royal Oak, Troy and Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Along with traditional wood waste recycling, J. H. Hart provides a just-in-time delivery service of specially ground wood waste fuel for cogeneration in several municipal power plants. “Wood waste is collected and processed into fuel to generate electricity. Then ash from the boilers is distributed to farmers in the region for application to their fields. Everyone benefits,” he concluded.

Origins of municipal wood waste
Nationwide, most municipal wood waste originates from the home building industry with some material stemming from retail and commercial activities. Along with scrap from building and remodeling, pallets, crates and discarded wood products comprise the majority of municipal wood waste. A portion is generated at warehouses and distribution centers and at small and medium sized manufacturing facilities and construction firms.

Tree scrap including dead branches, trimmings and storm damage account for the balance of the municipal wood waste stream.

Estimates are that only a very small portion of recycled wood waste – about 1% – comes from the residential sector. The majority – about 60% – is collected from large and medium-sized commercial wood waste generators by commercial refuse haulers or private trash collectors. Material recovery facilities (MRFs) are responsible for 20% of the recovered wood. The rest of the wood waste that is recycled – roughly 25% – comes from transfer stations, disposal sites, and other recycling activities.

Before wood waste can be recycled into mulch, fuel or other new products, it must be free of contaminants that could damage the recycling equipment. Objects such as nuts, bolts, staples, wire, and aluminum cans, and even rocks, dirt, glass could pose a risk of damage to grinders if processed along with the wood waste. Most of these risks can be eliminated during collection and sorting prior to processing.

Wood waste processors usually grind or chip the recovered material and send the resultant grind to mills that further process the chips into a variety of recycled products. These mills also have cleaning systems to remove some contaminants. Some of the new products from recycled wood waste include mulch, animal bedding, fuel for cogeneration and building materials such as OSB.

Legislative help
Since the early eighties, disposing of wood and green waste has become more difficult at landfills everywhere. “Bans on landfilling wood waste began on the east coast about 20 years ago,” said Jerry Morey, president of Bandit Industries, Inc. of Remus, Michigan, a major manufacturer of grinders and related wood waste recycling equipment. “Over a period of time, the movement spread to other parts of the country. The bans on landfilling wood and green waste forced many communities to seek other means for disposal. In response, many are purchasing their own wood waste recycling equipment, or in some cases, contracting with independent recyclers for wood waste disposal services at county and municipal landfills. It’s been very good for us, and for the industry,” continued Mr. Morey.

In addition to bans on landfilling wood waste, more and more communities have prohibited burning of the unwanted material as well. “For a lot of people, the backyard bonfire just isn’t an option anymore,” he added.

Grinding their own
In contrast to hiring outside firms to process municipal wood waste, some communities prefer to own and operate wood recycling equipment within the framework of city or county government. One such community is Toledo, Ohio. Alan Russell, manager of landfill operations for the city of Toledo said, “We began a wood waste recycling program nearly six years ago. Our primary activity includes grinding tree branches from city trimming services and downed limbs from storm damage into wood mulch at our Forestry Division’s central location. The mulch is then distributed to residents or used for landscaping maintenance on city owned property throughout the area.”

However, Toledo is a case where green waste is handled differently. In addition to the city-owned and operated wood waste recycling facility, the city retains two privately owned firms for processing green waste. “Both parties process wood waste, grass clippings and leaves,” continued Mr. Russell. “But instead of mulch, the primary output from these processes is organic compost. The objective of course, is to divert this material from our municipal landfill and create useful, valuable products from waste that everyone benefits from,” he said. Toledo is a northwest Ohio community of roughly 350,000 people.

It is estimated that in the United States alone, among metropolitan areas of 200,000 people or more, over 100 city or county governments operate wood recycling equipment.


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