Solid Waste & Recycling


More Than Meets the Eye

To people outside the industry, wood recycling might appear to be a simple commodity re-manufacturing process. A decade ago industry practitioners themselves were optimistic that the quantities of woo...

To people outside the industry, wood recycling might appear to be a simple commodity re-manufacturing process. A decade ago industry practitioners themselves were optimistic that the quantities of wood waste would increase and that the value of the recovered material would rise. While some optimism remains, the evolution of the industry turned out to be more problematic than initially thought.

Success in wood recycling requires knowledge of a complex and dynamic business model. Use of recycled wood products has grown, yet recyclers still require tip fees to recover manufacturing and handling costs.

Recycling challenges

The primary generators of waste wood are construction and demolition (C&D) sources, industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) package generators, as well as brush and stumps from municipal programs. The building and development boom has created unprecedented volumes of C&D waste and corresponding volumes of waste wood.

The cheap option of burying recyclables has inhibited wood waste recycling. While landfill space is an expensive commodity, the pricing effects are only beginning to be seen in the waste wood markets.

With the passing of Regulation 103 in the late 1990s, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment aimed to ensure source separation of wood at C&D generator sites. However, this regulation hasn’t been strongly enforced.

Some C&D wood waste recyclers still find it difficult and expensive to separate materials and recycle certain waste materials. Separation of mixed waste materials requires tight cost-management controls and profitable strategies for the handling of the entire spectrum of C&D materials, including gypsum drywall and a variety of wood materials. (See “Construction & Demolition Waste” supplement, page 39.)

The ISO influence

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) programs for IC&I generators has positively affected the wood recycling industry. The environmental management ISO 14001 standard in particular has in many cases ensured an increase in wood pallet and packaging stream recycling.

Wood waste recyclers should establish environmental management systems in conjunction with detailed business models that dictate in advance what to charge for incoming materials and what to deduct for processing costs. Cost factors should include: equipment, fuel, insurance, property and engineering costs for Certificates of Approval. In addition, it’s important to consider costs to separate contaminates in recycled waste wood. For instance, pressure-treated wood made with chromated copper arsenate has caused great concern (due, of course, to the amount of arsenic in the wood).

End products

Mulches are the principal recycled wood end product. Recyclers have invested in research and development primarily with the landscape market to create a diverse range of mulch products that are engineered to be better than virgin materials. Dyed mulch, bark mulch, and sized mulch have increased in popularity and Canadian wood recyclers have made significant inroads for their products in the large North American landscape market.

While these inroads are important, the prices for these finished products are relatively low and contribute only slightly to the overall cost of recycling. New markets such as multi-density fibreboard manufacturing and agricultural applications may offer further diversity and perhaps greater value for recycled wood.

As the composting industry develops, municipal green wood waste recycling and composting products will grow correspondingly. Increasing environmental awareness will continue to encourage municipalities to recycle more green brush and stump wood streams. (See “Composting Systems & Services supplement, page 23.)

The challenges to attract and recycle wood at reasonable tipping rates are an ongoing challenge. As new markets unfold, the wood recycling industry will develop further value-added products. But successful growth in the industry will require further careful cost control and volume management.

Jim Graham is president of TRY Recycling in Arva, Ontario. E-mail Jim at

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