Solid Waste & Recycling



In an era where we are taught to recycle and conserve, reducing waste is something with which we're all familiar. An area that's typically neglected, especially in the "reuse" part of the 3Rs, is urba...

In an era where we are taught to recycle and conserve, reducing waste is something with which we’re all familiar. An area that’s typically neglected, especially in the “reuse” part of the 3Rs, is urban forestry waste. Annual tree removals average around 9,000 in the Greater Toronto Area alone, not including infestation removals such as the Asian Long Horned Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer. That’s a lot of material and municipalities and private arborists faced with the disposal of such materials are forced to pay a premium to dump logs.

Once dumped, logs are either doomed for a fate as firewood, laid to rot in fields or tub-ground into mulch. Looking back over the years at how we’ve handled urban forestry waste, one would think there’s over-supply of trees in natural forests. Instead of salvaging and processing these urban logs into lumber, we appear happy to go into our natural environment and remove acres of forests unnecessarily.

Urban Tree Salvage is an operation that salvaging logs from urban dumpsites and private-sector removals, then processes them into valuable lumber for the furniture maker, hobbyist and general woodworker. With certification from SmartWood’s rediscovered wood program, the company is third-party guaranteed to produce an eco-friendly product. Only logs otherwise destined for landfills, fireplaces or compost are salvaged from dumpsites and arborist’s removals. Institutional removals have included Upper Canada College, Sunnybrook Hospital and York University’s Glendon campus (where trees were removed due to potential safety hazards and Dutch Elm disease). At its east Toronto location, the company mills these logs into lumber using a sawmill and kiln that dries the material to a 6 to 8 per cent moisture content (to be competitively sold back to the trades and the public). The company is currently discussing new markets with furniture manufactures, cabinet makers, flooring contractors and various artisans.

The market is large and also challenging at times. Approximately 73 per cent of the urban canopy is privately owned, with many trees growing and being removed in hard to access areas. Urban Tree Salvage has invented and fabricated a unique piece of equipment that can remove logs that weigh up to 4,400 lbs from hard to access areas (such as residential backyards). Without this piece of equipment, such logs would be sawn into small pieces and removed by wheelbarrow, making the tree unusable for lumber.

To date, the company has prevented more than 200,000 lbs of logs from entering the waste stream (and the environment via burning and composting). Dry wood is comprised of about 50 per cent carbon, so diverting wood from landfill or burning extends the time that this carbon is kept out of the atmospheric carbon cycle, a climate change benefit.

Urban Tree Salvage believes that more cities throughout our country will be encouraged to participate and utilize urban forestry waste, while decreasing the destruction of natural forests. The company is a member of the RCO, ONEIA and Earthroots and are supported by The David Suzuki Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Forestry Services, and the City of Toronto.

Sean Gorham is president of Urban Tree Salvage in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Sean at

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