Stockpiling old utility poles can raise costs, and the risk of injury


Treated wood poles serve an obvious and vital function for utilities, at least while they are in service. Over time, of course, wood utility poles degrade and, once removed from service, can become a nuisance by taking up much needed yard space at utility storerooms, or even spilling over into the work area. It’s estimated that around three percent of treated poles are retired from service each year, representing over three-million tons of used wood material (North Pacific Group). Stockpiling them in the yard carries added costs and risks-having employees move poles or use saws to cut them into smaller sections, exposes utilities to both additional man hours/costs and safety hazards.

The Current “Solution”

Over the past couple of decades, utilities have traditionally embraced two means of pole disposal: 1) they gave it away indiscriminately, or 2) they had it carted off to landfill. The following infographic bears this preference out.

Another, more recent, study conducted by Osmose, a leading supplier to the utility pole industry, corroborates the fact that most utilities preferred to give away old poles or take them to landfill. In reality, most utilities did both, and rarely had a “formal plan” in place to efficiently dispose of old poles and wood waste. Up until now, that was okay. The problem with this “plan” is that giving poles away puts utilities at serious risk of violating state regulations with regard to the disposal of treated wood. Secondly, it puts employees in potentially dangerous situations.

The Risk of Doing It Yourself

The average Class 3/40 utility pole weighs nearly 3/4 ton. Imagine the severity of injury that can, and does, occur when material of this size is improperly stored or handled. For some utilities, the solution is to cut poles up in the field into smaller sections before transporting them back to the yard. However, this ignores the fact that many poles contain metal which, when in contact with a chainsaw, can cause significant injury. Additionally, cutting up poles exposes workers to treated wood dust that can also lead to harmful respiratory issues. Given these risks, many utilities now believe the potential “lost man hours” and associated medical costs that come with disposal-related injuries, make it difficult to justify having employees involved in the process.

The Risk of Giving Poles Away

While research points to utilities continuing to give away poles as a means of disposal, the potential liabilities associated with public misuse of treated poles is well documented. In particular, consumers who elect to subsequently burn treated poles as firewood are exposing themselves to significant health risks. And while utilities can hope to address this issue by having legal documentation (e.g. Material Safety Data Sheet) provided to consumers at the time of the pole give-away, the reality is that this process is managed sporadically, with utilities having no clear understanding of who and where disposed pole material actually ended up.

Koppers Recovery Wood Disposal Services

In an effort to help utilities overcome the safety risks of disposing of poles, Koppers Recovery has implemented a program to regularly pick up old poles to help keep the yard safe and clean. Koppers Recovery is specifically designed to give utility companies a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly means to dispose of whole poles. With our Whole Pole Recovery Program, utilities can realize significant cost savings on a per-ton basis through a more effective use of logistics, while also reducing potential employee safety issues. Koppers Recovery will set up a regular removal schedule, picking up 30-40 whole poles at a time. They’ll also build a designated cinder-block containment area to retain the poles until pick-up, keeping the yard clear and clean.

Whole Pole Recovery Program

Cost Efficient: Koppers can back-haul old poles using the same trucks that deliver new poles

Safety: Reduced risk of injury, no yard congestion

Savings: Reduced labor costs (no need to cut up wood waste)

Convenient: Turnkey service, minimal effort required

Environmentally Focused: Waste to energy disposal service

To learn more about the benefits and savings of Koppers Recovery Wood Disposal Services, please contact [email protected] or call 803.492.7728.