According to 2006 data from NRCan, approximately 1.25 million tonnes of wood waste is generated in Canada per year. This quantity amounts to about seven percent of all non-hazardous solid waste disposed. It seems illogical to dispose of wood waste in landfills when there are so many options for reuse and recycling or recover of wood’s energy value.
Waste wood, whether from old buildings, shipping pallets, construction sites, low-grade wood from the forest industry, or any number of sources, is still valuable for use in a number of different ways. (For more on reusable pallets, see sidebar article, page 19)
Energy generation and 3Rs
The common use of wood waste is burning, to generate either heat or electricity. The forest products industry itself meets 60 percent of its total energy needs burning wood-waste residue. Elsewhere across Canada, there are 20 thermo-electric plants in Canada that generate 378 MW of electricity burning wood waste. District heating systems utilizing heat waste can be found in a number of communities across Canada including Charlottetown, PEI, Ouje-Bougoumou, Quebec, Grand Prairie, Alberta, and Revelstock, BC.
Besides domestic use, Canada exports wood waste in the form of pellets. There are 37 plants in Canada producing 2.9 million tonnes of wood pellets per year. Approximately 50 per cent of the wood pellets produced in Canada are exported to the northeast USA, Asia, and Europe. The export market is growing with mandates in Europe for renewable energy use and the rising cost of other means of producing energy.
The major reuse and recycling operations utilizing of wood waste include the fibreboard, mulch, and animal bedding.
Flakeboard is one Canadian-based company that manufactures wood panel products from recycled waste wood. Founded in 1960, the company has six mills in North America producing new products from wood waste.
One of the oldest wood recycling companies in Canada is Ontario Sawdust Supplies Ltd., located about an hour’s drive north of Toronto in the Town of East Gwillimbury. The company has been in business since 1954 producing wood flour, livestock bedding, and mulch. Unbeknownst to many, wood flour is used in a myriad of products including absorbents and cleaning supplies, adhesives, paper, rubber, filtration media, and plastic.
The growing use of wood waste for energy production and new products is welcome news for Canadians interested in terms of diversion, renewable energy production, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and green jobs. To ensure continued growth, the federal and provincial governments should ensure barriers are not in place that result in wood waste being needlessly sent to landfill.
The State of North Carolina is an example of a jurisdiction committed to high-end utilization of wood waste. As of 2009, wood pallets are banned from landfills in the state. The ban provided a boost to local companies that reuse wood, recycle it into new products or burn it for energy generation.
In Canada, there a several examples of municipalities banning wood pallets from their landfills including the Region of Waterloo. Prior to implementing the ban, it was estimated that the landfill was accepting 3,000 tonnes of pallets and wood waste annually. By banning the pallets, the municipality freed up landfill space, reduced the production of greenhouse gases, and assisting the wood waste recycling industry. The cost of implementing the ban was estimated to be $45,000 annually (in promotional costs, signage and storage bins).
There are precautions with respect to the reuse and recycling of wood waste. Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have a technical draft report covering the use, transport, storage and disposal of wood waste as it pertains to the protection of fish and fish habitat. Similarly, in British Columbia a 2005 Factsheet cautions horse owners that utilize wood waste for stables and riding paths to keep its use 30 metres from any source of water used for domestic purposes.
In Canada, we have only begun to scratch the surface in terms of utilizing the full environmental and economic value of wood waste. Countries such as Sweden are far ahead of us when it comes to utilizing wood waste in products and for energy generation. As a case in point, 32 percent of all energy is Sweden is generated from biomass — mainly wood waste. The goal is to achieve 50 per cent by 2020.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com