Approximately 16 million tons of wood waste was generated in 2010, according to the EPA. In fact, wood comprises the largest percentage of the residential construction and demolition waste stream—approximately 42 percent of residential new construction debris—according the National Association of Home Builders Research Center. Prior to 1990, there was limited recycling of wood waste (e.g., urban wood waste, woody debris from suburban land clearing, and rural forestry residuals) in the United States. Today, EPA estimates there are more than 500 wood processing facilities across the country.
The markets for recovered wood vary across the United States according to regional and local supply and demand. The current market, however, is dominated by mulch and fuel applications which pay between $12 and $24 per ton for processed wood. Wood waste from construction and demolition activities is attractive as a fuel because of its low moisture content. Processed or chipped wood is also used as a composting bulk agent and as animal bedding. Salvaged or reused wood products are the highest value items but typically require the highest costs for sorting and processing. In addition, recovered wood can be used to manufacturer value-added products such as medium density fiberboard and particleboard; these manufacturers demand high-quality feedstocks, however, which can be difficult to achieve on a consistent basis.
The demolition industry is increasing its efforts to recover wood waste. In 2010, nearly 15 percent of wood waste was salvaged and recycled. In addition, the deconstruction industry continues to grow and salvage an increasing percentage of materials from old buildings. Deconstruction efforts recover and reuse wood for flooring, doors, windows, and other applications. A number of independent lumber mills have retooled their operations to process reclaimed timbers, as well. Federal and local air and water regulations provide an incentive for wood recovery by discouraging inappropriate burning or discarding of woody debris. A major barrier to increased wood recovery, however, is the lack of grade standards for recovered wood. These standards include grading rules, engineering properties, and a grade stamp. There is also a need for technical performance testing to investigate the structural integrity of recovered wood.