Making a Case for Sustainable Waste Wood Recycling Industry Across Canada

Matt Bradford

Canada is primed to turn a corner on wood waste recycling. By doing so, it can make a positive and sustainable impact that benefits all waste wood producers and wood recycling facilitators.

It’s an ambitious vision. And, according to Jim Donaldson, founder, and CEO of the Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group, it requires collaborative action from all levels of government in the form of effective policies and supports: “The bottom line is that all post-consumer waste wood is a hundred per cent recyclable. Anything we can do to encourage and enable waste wood recycling brings positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.”

The challenge is that while players in the Canadian wood sector may be on board with finding new applications for their waste, they lack the means and financial incentives. Regions like Metro-Vancouver BC have implemented measures such as prohibitions on wood waste burning or landfilling to push the industry closer to wood waste recycling. However, other provinces still have ways to go.

“I would estimate that less than 18 per cent of manufactured, post-consumer C&D (Construction and Demolition) wood waste is recycled in Ontario, which is a huge, missed opportunity,” Donaldson adds.

There’s no shortage of alternatives to leaving wood waste to sit in landfills. The Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group outlines three main reuse channels, including:

Re-processing: The process of grinding, shredding, chipping, hammer-milling, and\or screening used end-of-life wood into a reusable product format for sale in developing reuse markets. Potential reuse products include road or trail base, landfill cover, animal bedding, water conservation material, composting, and many more.

Remanufacturing: Using stationary or portable wood sawmill systems to remanufacture used or unwanted off-cuts, construction demolition wood waste, smaller mill-grade trees, bug-infested trees, and other items destined for the landfill. Potential remanufactured products include new building materials, furniture, flooring, roofing, beams, and other construction products.

Barn wood: Dismantling, collecting, and repurposing barn wood material for retail applications such as building products, flooring, furniture, and other consumer wood products.

There are no one-size-fits-all national frameworks for wood recycling. Each jurisdiction has its own opportunities and reuse markets and partners that must first be identified and engaged. For its part, says Donaldson, the Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group has numerous strategies and frameworks for establishing closed-loop recycling processes and is actively encouraging Canada’s federal, provincial, and municipal governments to support the development of the Canadian wood recycling industry.

“The process begins by going into a region and identifying how much wood waste is produced, how it can be repurposed, and who within the region can make it possible,” he explains. “At the end of the day, it’s a feasibility study with the ultimate goal of finding the most economic reuse market products for a given region, whether that’s animal bedding, construction materials, retail materials, or whatnot.”

“Because there’s a reuse for everything, you just need to be willing to look and start the conversation,” Donaldson adds.

Feasibility studies are an essential step. Another is for Canadian governments to implement policies and incentives that spur wood waste recycling practices.

“For wood recycling facilitators to make a sustainable business, they need to obtain a recycling tipping fee of around $55 per metric ton, and landfill wood waste disposal costs need to be around a minimum of $70 per metric ton,” explains Donaldson. “That way, it makes more financial sense to recycle waste wood materials into a reusable format and create a commodity value.”

Making progress

Wood waste recycling holds great potential for manufacturers and consumers alike. Making it happen in Canada means uniting industry players in identifying and acting upon individual market opportunities.

“We have everything we need to do this, but we need to catch up, especially now as the mass timber industry is ramping up and creating all these reuse applications,” says Donaldson. “More than that, though, it’s our responsibility as tenants of this planet to make sure we’re making the best use of this completely reusable natural resource.”

Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.

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