Utilities Searching for New Ways to Dispose of Treated Poles—Landfills No Longer an Option for Many

Aluminum and wood recycling area of landfill site

Distribution Systems Manager Ben Cash of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative understands the value of a company like Koppers Recovery. “Landfills around the country are filling up and many will no longer accept certain waste streams, like utility poles which are heavy, bulky and chemically treated” he says, “That’s a dilemma. Because we’re replacing utility poles all of the time. For legal reasons we can’t give them away anymore and now we often can’t send them to a landfill. Which is where Koppers Recovery comes in.”

Many older landfill facilities aren’t set up for disposing of poles or for using the poles in an energy recovery process. Koppers Recovery is uniquely positioned to recover poles, and in the process help generate additional electricity on the grid through waste-to-energy disposal. There are upwards of 140 million poles in use today with 4.5 million of those poles that will need to be discarded as they’ve reached the end of their useful life. That’s enough poles to generate a year’s worth of energy for over 200,000 U.S. homes. Koppers Recovery can help dispose of those poles affordably, conveniently, and responsibly.

“A company like Koppers Recovery is vital for a smaller co-op like me,” says Cash. “Utility poles are chemically treated to provide protection from rot and insects which ultimately limits where and how they can be disposed.” Cash continues, “In Virginia new regulations demand that the utility pole be disposed of at a certified lined waste landfill or recycled for energy use. I don’t have the capacity to do that, so Koppers Recovery does it for me.”

According to Cash, treated-wood utility poles will most likely continue to be used for at least the next 75 years. Because of the nature of the power that’s flowing to the poles, that type of voltage can’t be conducted underground. Plus, many building sites don’t have easy ground penetration that makes undergrounding lines a financially viable alternative to above ground. This leaves millions of wood-treated poles in need of proper disposal.

In addition to providing a viable means of generating electricity, Koppers Recovery is able to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by relying primarily on waste-to-energy processing vs. landfill. Recently, AquAeTer Environmental Engineering was engaged by the Treated Wood Council to do a study on the environmental lifecycle of utility poles. According to Chris Bolin, AquAeTer’s Technical Director on Sustainability, Hydrogeologic, Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Services, wood-treated utility poles processed via an energy recovery process are the clear winner from an environmental standpoint.

According to Bolin and AquAeTer, GHG emissions represent a negative 70,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-eq.) per Mcf of treated wood when the chosen disposal method is waste-to-energy generation. In comparison, landfilling this same amount of treated wood creates a GHG reduction of only roughly 10,000 pounds. The carbon offset generated annually through waste-to-energy disposal is equal to the GHG emissions of approximately 870,000 U.S. citizens or about 0.29 percent of the U.S. total GHG output.

Bolin continued, “At the end of their lifecycle, the wood-treated poles are good candidates for carbon energy recovery, specifically methane gas. A company like Koppers Recovery is invaluable for this type of energy recovery and will continue to innovate new methods for effective recycling of wood waste.”