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Rounding up Urban Wood Wastes
By Barbara Coyner
Have tub grinder, will travel. That may be the best way to describe how various counties are taking on the huge volume of urban wood waste every day.
New construction sites generate plenty of wood waste, while urban residents kick in their share of tree trimmings and remodeling leftovers. Add to that the various businesses tossing in their shipping pallets. With landfills already bulging at the seams, and towns and cities trying to pencil out reasonable expenses for garbage hauling, wood waste is a major headache for urban areas. In fact, California estimates that 28 percent of its garbage tonnage is wood waste. Enter companies like Cannon Hill of Post Falls, Idaho, to help.
Cannon Hill Takes on the Challenge
Cannon Hill hauls its Vermeer 9000 tub grinder and a Cat loader to Boundary, Bonner, and Kootenai counties in Idaho and Whitman County in Washington. They usually spend three or four days at each location, perhaps two or three times per year. The company also contracts with the Environmental Protection Agency for work in the Silver Valley at Kellogg, Idaho.
The urban work usually requires a three-person crew, with the grinder able to process about 60 green tons of material per hour. Additionally, Cannon Hill takes on logging sites on a contract basis, sending out a five-person crew and its Peterson or Vermeer grinder for those duties. The business leads almost always come from Clearwater Paper in Lewiston, because Cannon Hill turns around to supply woody biomass to that mill for use in its biomass power plant.
“There’s not enough business to go around and stay busy with what we do,” says Dan Reasor, who works with his brother Mike, the founder of the company. “We have highs and lows, and we might be down for three months at a time.”
Because Cannon Hill recycles much more than wood waste, however, business is done on other fronts, as well. The company does building demolition (recycling several materials) and also operates two salvage yards, one in Spokane and one in Post Falls. “Ninety percent of a typical house gets recycled,” Reasor says of the average home demolition.
Gathering up urban wood wastes requires its share of vigilance and business sense. The company searches out clean wood waste and salvageable demolition waste that Dan describes as “environmentally friendly with no hazards.” This is especially crucial when grinding fuels for woody biomass power plants, because emissions and air quality are strictly monitored and regulated.
Contending with construction waste and demolition materials is complicated by the many nails and staples remaining in the materials. In Cannon Hill’s processing, materials are first ground up, then run along a conveyor where a strong magnet removes the metals. Those are subsequently salvaged and recycled on the metals market.
Once the materials are ready to be hauled, Reasor relies mostly on Jack Buell Trucking of St. Maries, Idaho, for transportation. In the woods, the processing system is a bit different, with chipping being done and loads piled at a central site for further transportation. Cannon Hill also relies on roll-off containers to gather some of the raw materials that will be chipped later. The company is fortunate to have Clearwater Paper as its ready purchaser for the chipped biomass.
Dealing with urban wood waste is perhaps more complex than dealing with in-the-woods biomass. As always, transportation is a hassle — made even more so by traffic congestion, narrow city streets, and pedestrian concerns. There is also the cyclical nature of building, with the economy’s ups and downs making for a bumpy business ride.
One more challenge is the independent contractors who constantly scour areas for old barn wood, reusable building materials, and other salvageable materials. Titus Gilliam runs Reclaimed Lumber Products out of Nampa, Idaho, and is willing to travel extended distances to find the perfect gray barn wood that many of his city customers covet. Other materials are turned into paneling, custom doors, and window trim. “I am always looking for old weathered wood,” he says. “We never have enough.” This is the type of competition that further complicates a business like Cannon Hill’s.
From the vantage point of the landfill and recycling center operators, companies like Cannon Hill are important to cutting down on the amount of trash requiring disposal. Yet such contracts cost a lesser-populated county sometimes $50,000 — a large chunk in a budget. But the competition for the woody biomass remains steady for outfits like Cannon Hill, with places like Clearwater Paper, the University of Idaho, and area power plants absolutely depending on a steady stream of materials to keep those turbines running and the power bills down.