Wood Recycling – A “Green” Opportunity

A picture of compost soil
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Wood recycling comprises of grinding brush, stumps, tree limbs, and scrap building products, etc… By grinding these wood products, you are creating a reusable product…..wood chips.

Here’s a short quote from www.p2pays.org, regarding the importance of wood recycling:

A variety of wood wastes are generated from construction, demolition, and land clearing operations. Wood wastes consist of: tree trimmings, scrap wood, pallets, lumber, and shipping containers. Wood wastes are often classified as Construction and Demolition (C&D) debris. Wood wastes can be diverted from landfilling and used in a number of applications. Such applications include lumber reuse, mulch, fibers for manufacturing, animal bedding, and biomass fuel. Wood wastes can also be used in composting operations. Wood wastes can be applied to cleared areas for dust suppression and runoff control. Such wastes can also be reused for small construction and hobby projects.

Wood wastes can be reused in home heating or construction. Although this diversion strategy is cost-free, it is often difficult to reuse all of the waste products. If the wood wastes cannot be reused or taken offsite by a recycler, the next viable diversion step is size reduction. Grinding is the most common method used to reduce the size of wood wastes. Wood tub grinders are used to reduce wood wastes into smaller particles. No screening is necessary. The larger-sized output material from the tub grinder can be used as a biomass fuel or as a bulking agent to balance high nitrogen loads in composting operations. The smaller-sized material can be composted or used as mulch. However, according to the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, it is not recommended to grind or compost wood covered with lead-based paint. During grinding this paint will generate a toxic dust cloud , where the lead can leach into the compost. Wood wastes that are chipped or ground will decompose more readily. Composted wood wastes can be used as a soil amendment or fertilizer. The reduced wood wastes can also be used as mulch and help grow grass at municipal and commercial landscape applications, such as highway projects and golf courses. Mulch can also be used to control weed growth.

Wood tub grinders are not limited in opening size like smaller chippers or shredders. The grinders can process large and odd shaped wood including stumps, pallets, and waste lumber. Material that is pressure treated, chemically treated, or creosote contaminated should not be composted. Such wood contains chemicals that inhibit plant growth or are toxic to the environment. Avoid plywood or particle board since they contain glues which might be hard on machinery, difficult to compost, and contain undesirable chemicals for land application.

We engaged in wood recycling for over six years. We set up in a permanent location and began to accept brush, stumps, tree limbs, and some construction waste. To grind these products, we used a WHO P-12 tubgrinder, with a grapple, which was operated by a person who sat in the cab. As the brush was loaded into the tub, the hammermill would chomp on the wood, and spit it out, onto a conveyor belt. The piles of wood chips were then moved away from the tub grinder, with a loader.

Another area, we included in the wood recycling operation, was for demolition jobs. If a house was being demolished, parts of the house were able to be recycled. We would not take any windows, fixtures, carpeting or pad, wiring, anything painted with lead paint, or asbestos. We were very careful to not grind any product that could contaminate our topsoil or compost products. Customers who tried to bring in loads of unacceptable products, were refused. More time was required on our part when we accepted loads of house demo, thus, customers were charged a higher rate to have the house demo, recycled. It was with house demo, that we would end up with some waste products that were not recyclable. These products were stacked in a separate location, and when we had a truck load, it was taken to the local landfill.

With our stacks of wood chips multiplying, we decided to begin composting a percentage of them. Since we were also getting in grass clippings and yard debris, we began combining these products, and making compost. Obviously, the larger wood chips would take longer to compost, so we installed smaller screens in the tubgrinder, and produced a small chip. By doing this, we sped up the composting process.

Wanting to take recycling to the next level, we purchased a Wittco brand classifier. This is often called a trommel, but the Wittco that we have, also includes a 6000 gallon “bath”. This piece of equipment worked perfectly for processing the dirty material that was accumulating.

VACAVILLE, CA - APRIL 20:  Finished compost if...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

With the classifier, product is loaded onto a conveyor belt. It then goes through a 28 foot (x 6′ diameter) trommel screen. As the trommel turns, product is released through the predetermined size screens. Anything larger than the screens, passes onto the bath. The bath contains two underwater conveyor belts. The top belt (since wood floats), takes the wood products, and dispenses it outside of the bath (on the front side of the classifier, and can be taken to the tubgrinder for grinding). The rocks, that sink to the bottom of the bath, are picked up by the second conveyor belt, and are ejected out, to the rear side of the classifier.

The trommel, or classifier, is operated by a person who sits in a “control tower”. The operator can stop the trommel at any time, or set the speed of the trommel. If they see a problem, they can stop the trommel from turning, and correct the problem.

With the classifier, we were able to mix, or blend, the dirt with the composted, recycled wood products. Hence, a blended topsoil product was created. Ironically, as the blended topsoil sat in piles, it continued to compost even further (or “cook” as they say). Several times we had the blended topsoil tested, and the results came back showing we had created a fantastic topsoil product, full of nutrients.

For several years, we took the larger wood chips, which were not composted, and sold them as hog fuel. When the demand for hog fuel declined, we chose to compost them as well.

When composting, watering and turning the piles is essential. Again, we used the loader and backhoe, although a compost turner can also be used.

So, with one tub grinder, a classifier, a loader, and sometimes a backhoe, we had a complete recycling operation. To create additional income, we also used our dump truck, to either pick up products for recycling, or to deliver the “end” products to other contractors or home owners.

Our list of resalable products included wood chips for hog fuel, animal bedding, or ground cover; blended top soil, compost, and firewood. If we had any unprocessed dirty material, we had that available for sale, as a “fill” material. We contemplated mixing “special blends” of top soil, but the need never arose. With the classifier, that would have been an easy task.

The blended topsoil was our biggest “mover”. Living in an area where good topsoil was non existent, we were able to fill a need. Landscapers loved our product, and we had many testimonials of how the lawns and flower beds they put in, would flourish.

Being able to use varied sizes of screens in the classifier, we also contemplated bagging our topsoil product, and selling it locally. This would have been another great income stream, however, due to time constraints, that plan never materialized.

When we began our recycling operation, we charged our customers $3.00 a cubic yard for all brush, limbs, scrap wood, grass clipping, and yard debris. Stumps were charged out at $9.00 per cubic yard. At the time, these prices were based on what the market could bear, however, since then, prices have increased.

We worked on a “honor system”, and used a three part invoice. We set up a mail box, where the invoices were kept. When the drivers would bring in a load of recyclables, they would fill out the invoice and keep one copy. When their company was billed, a second copy was attached to the invoice. We would do spot checks, and at times would find discrepancies. If that were the case, the driver and/or company were notified, and a correction was made to the invoice. A few people, “dumped and dashed”, but that was a rare occurrence. The honor system worked fine for our set up, however, for a larger operation, it may be necessary to set up a “booth”, where loads can be being viewed, and the invoices are being completed by an individual, hired by the company.

For loads of product coming in to us, we also made a 4×8′ “map” of the recycling yard. This directed the drivers as to which area we wanted the products dumped. By notifying the drivers where to dump the different products, we were able to keep our recycling yard more organized, thus eliminating the need to handle a product more than once.

Mostly due to health issues, we stopped our wood cycling operation. Our biggest joy, was knowing we had done something good, for the environment.

Wood recycling is a great way to create a “green” business. Most communities have a need for this. If no one recycles wood products, these products either end up in the landfills, or are getting burned. It’s sad to see this, as the landfills end up filling up fast, costing the community a much unneeded financial burden.

Wood recycling, combined with composting, completely recycles a product, and creates byproducts that are great for resale. There is very little waste.

If wood recycling is a business you would like to venture into, in addition to setting up a legal business entity, it may be necessary to also get permits from your local or state governments. Depending on the size of your operation, DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), may also require you to apply for a permit.

As mentioned in an earlier post, (Free Information For government Grants ), I had also researched the possibility of Federal grant money for the recycling operation. Some state governments offer a tax credit for the purchase of recycling equipment. Visit your state’s website to see what programs they may offer.

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15 Responses to Wood Recycling – A “Green” Opportunity

  1. asako says:

    This is an extensive tutorial. It is definitely a future opportunity with increasing interest in environmental issues. In the future, everything has to be recycled. And anyone who develops the magic formula would be immensely successful.

    I noticed that you had to quit to take care of your health. You must have worked really hard. Please take care.

  2. Barbara says:

    Hi Asako,

    Thank you for your comment on my post.

    I’m hoping what I have written will help others to “do their part” for the environment, as well.

    The health issues have been resolved, and part of the solution, was to downsize our business. I appreciate your concern.

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  8. This is a very impressive article that I will be bookmarking. I’ve always wanted to get into recycling in some form or another and have a tree farm that tends to produce a lot of wood waste. Also, one more use for waste wood is wood pellets for pellet stoves. I’m involved with them and with new models they are extremely efficient and environmentally sound.

    Wood Stove Accessoriess last blog post..Pellet Stove Accessories

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  10. Hi Wood – Thank you. Wood recycling is a great business opportunity, but is great for the environment.

  11. cj yochum says:

    Hello, i was curious if your classifier has sold? Thank you.

  12. Eric says:

    This is very insightful. I live in Canada and I am planning to start a wood recycling business. My In Laws have a pretty good size farm land and I believe it will serve our community well. I am an average working joe who loves to do small time wood working projects and have been picking up wood scraps for free from people’s garages and backyards. I am surprised there isn’t a service for people to drop off their wood scraps, which is why there is a need for it! I am in the process of developing a business plan…I’m going to need to ask for startup funds from our government to start this business. Since you’re in the business, how much startup, would you say, is necessary?

    Thank you for your awesome tutorial!

  13. Alex says:

    Great article! There can’t be too much advice for operators in mulch business, whether they are grinding, screening or coloring. For anybody else looking to develop a grinding or composting business I would also recommend http://www.grinderinfo.com for additional information on planning and setting up you operation.

  14. Kuthsav says:

    Dear Mam,
    I would like to know if there is any recycling process where the wood can be produced from the broken chips?

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