How to Recycle Wood

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 16, 2023

Everyone is trying to go green in everything. So much waste is congesting landfills, and options are needed to make items more sustainable. One such item is wood. A lot of wood can be recycled as a new building material. Some can be used as mulch, and some supposedly as fuel. But it is important to know that not all wood is the same. The practice of recycling wood will only work if the different types are identified. In doing so, you help the environment and decrease the need to chop down more trees. 

Can You Recycle Wood?

The process by which wood waste is turned into a new and usable product is wood recycling. The scraps can be used to create anything from wood pellets, paper, or panel boards to energy production.

Other types of recyclable wood include lumber, limbs, stumps, and clean timber. Clean is a keyword in the recycling of wood. This is because if the wood has been treated, stained, painted, or contaminated in some way, it cannot be traditionally recycled and must be gotten rid of by other means.

Is Wood Bad For the Environment?

If wood makes it to a landfill, it is a waste of this valuable resource. Instead of lying dormant for eternity, it can be used in construction, landscaping, or as fuel. Not to mention, it could slow the process of cutting down trees. Wood cannot be placed into recycling bins, because bins are for use of plastics, glass, and paper that are clean and free from residue. Repurposing is a better option as is recycling wood. 

Why Recycle Wood?

The green impact of recycling wood is great for the environment. It saves trees and prevents trash from being transferred to landfills. Recycling wood opens up opportunities for the growing demand of environmentally aware customers. The use of wood is powerful as a biofuel. It is sourced from lumber yards, urban tree waste, wood waste from industrial centers, and construction and demolition debris. 

Lastly, wood recycling can help to keep energy costs down. When manufacturers make items out of recycled materials, vs virgin materials, less energy is utilized for materials processing, and even for fossil fuel burning.

How to Get Rid of Wood?

Wooden pallets or old wood that are untreated and in good condition may be used again or repurposed. Crafters and DIY project managers often find many creative uses. Chipped wood should be considered for landscaping due to its excellent repurposing value as mulch. Wood products and recycled wood are also easy to process. When you purchase wood, try to get wood that is certified, which means the trees that were used come from a sustainably managed forest.

How to Recycle Wood?

The main primary step in recycling wood is learning how to recognize and separate wood products that can be recycled. The process by which it is recycled greatly depends on the type of wood being used. Waste that is good and clean can be reused and recycled in brand-new products.

Steps in recycling wood include:

  • Take the wood to a recycling facility, documenting quantity and weight
  • Separate the wood by quality and grade
  • Proper shredding of the wood
  • Differentiation from other recyclable materials like metals
  • Final shredding and minimizing

What Are the Different Grades of Recycled Wood?

There are 4 grades of recycled wood:

  • Grade A: This wood is made from pallets and is good for bedding and mulch. It is considered clean.
  • Grade B: This wood has a combination of construction waste and grade A. It is called industrial-grade feedstock and is good for panel boarding.
  • Grade C: This wood is used for biomass fuel. It can be a combination of A and B as well as collections from municipalities.
  • Grade D: This type of wood is inclusive of all wood whether treated, painted, trackwork, or fencing. It must be disposed of at a special facility and is considered hazardous waste.

Wood Recycling Process

Never treat your wood, especially unprocessed wood, like trash. Untreated wood and pallets can be turned into mulch. High-quality mulch as a matter of fact. If your wood is preservative-free and paint-free, it will recycle and decompose to enhance the soil.

Wood that is treated has chemicals to repel fungi and insects. It may include chemicals like copper, arsenic, creosote, and chromium. This wood is often found in decks, fences, and varying décor from landscaping. Treated wood can be taken to your local disposal facility for recycling. Keep it separated from other wood products. Also, try to remove nails and screws.

Dangers of improper recycling

Most wood used for fences, outdoor furniture, bbq grill support, and landscaping projects is usually treated with chemicals. It is covered to protect it from fungus, bugs, and weather. This is meant to extend the life of the wood, sometimes up to 30 times longer than usual.

The treatments used to protect wood can be toxic. They can be bad for your health, and for the environment. That is why proper disposal is so important. Wood is usually treated with one of three products:

  • Oil-based preservatives, like Penta, are known to cause fetal damage and other birth defects. This preservative type can also cause numerous other health problems. 
  • Creosote is another wood preservative. It is made from coal tar distilled chemicals made in coking ovens. The fumes do cause environmental hazards, and also birth defects.  
  • A more modern and popular preservative used is waterborne ones. They are used for pressure-treating, with 94% of them being made from the ingredient chromate copper arsenate. Though the EPA classifies them as pesticides and highly toxic, under normal conditions the treated wood caused no danger with regular circumstances of use.

Consider recycling wood before just tossing it out. If you cannot break it down yourself, take it to your local recycling facility. Make sure it is separated as per treated or untreated pieces. Reuse wooden pallets at home for easy DIY projects. All of these steps will help in turning your home green.

Show Sources

Connecticut Government Department of Energy & Environmental Protection: "Green Building: Proper Use and Disposal of Treated Lumber."
King County Natural Resources and ParksSolid Waste Division: "Recyclable wood is a resource."
Materials (Basel): "The Use of Wood Pellets in the Production of High Quality Biocarbon Materials."
Recycle Ann Arbor: "Recycling Tips for Better Results: What to Do with Wood."
Recycling Inside 2023: "Recycling wood," "Wood waste management advantages."
Santa Barbara County Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division: "That's Good Wood!"

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