Going Green: Striking a balance between sustainability and cost


Like many industries in today’s global marketplace, utilities continue to adopt corporate-wide sustainability goals as a key part of their operating strategy. The disposal of treated and untreated wood waste is often an area in which utilities see opportunity to adopt a more “green” approach to their business practices. In the past, utility companies have been limited in their disposal options, with most having to resort to “landfilling,” which can present both environmental and logistical problems. The current dilemma for utilities—most of which strive to be environmentally responsible—is that sometimes the “greenest” approaches are also the most costly to implement.

Multiple options to meet multiple goals

Koppers Recovery believes that no single disposal solution is necessarily appropriate for every utility. Understanding sustainability goals and balancing those goals against actual disposal costs typically leads us to the creation of a customized solution involving one or more of the following options.

NOTE: Multiple factors go into determining the most sustainable AND cost-effective methods for disposing of wood waste, including the type of material being disposed of, state and/or federal regulations, the disposal method chosen, and the logistics involved in implementing that solution.

1) Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Incineration
This is an environmentally friendly method of generating energy using Penta and/or Creosote treated wooden poles (or untreated wood) as a biomass fuel source. The high temperature incineration process converts the old wood waste into a new energy source which can be repurposed as electricity. Currently, roughly 2% of the electric energy used in the US is derived from wood waste disposed of in this manner.

2) Wood Waste Recycling
Depending on the type of the wood waste being disposed of—and the toxicity of the waste stream—this is perhaps the most environmentally responsible wood disposal method. Typically used poles are repurposed for agricultural purposes, landscaping, pole barns, and the like.

3) Landfill Gas (LFG) Recovery
This method relies on capturing methane gas from existing landfills to help generate electricity and simultaneously reduce GHG emissions. The methane gas serves as an energy source to power turbines and, in turn, the turbines generate electricity for the grid. As biodegradable waste, wood poles and other untreated wood material produce methane during the degradation process.

Customize your own wood disposal solution

Striking the proper balance between corporate sustainability goals and the need to manage budgets is no easy task. However, many utilities may be surprised to learn that one or more of the above approaches can be undertaken in a cost-effective manner. Traditional landfill-based disposal programs often appear cheapest due to the lower initial disposal fees, however, when internal labor costs are included for cutting, sorting, or moving material to the landfill, the actual per-ton disposal costs increase significantly.

Depending on the utility and the corporate level of commitment to environmental responsibility, any one of these methods may be the best overall solution—for both the environment and the bottom line. “What’s important today,” says Chad Russell of Koppers Wood Disposal Services, “is for utilities to understand that there are multiple wood disposal methods available. In the past, landfill was the de facto solution. However, that is not the case today. In fact, there are several viable disposal methods that are more environmentally friendly. The question for each utility company becomes: Which method is right for your company based on logistics, sustainability goals, and budgetary requirements?”