Processors Strive To Meet Challenges Of A Changing Marketplace

The key to effective wood waste processing is knowing what changes have occurred in the industry and adjusting your operations accordingly. Ceres Environmental, St. Paul, Minn., is one of many wood waste processors who have discovered that finding the raw materials, delivering the highest quality products and developing markets for those products are essential to survival - and even growth - in the '90s.

Large-scale wood waste operators often use tubgrinders for handling whole tree and stump waste. An increase in equipment manufacturers and the technological innovations that go with it have changed the way today's wood waste is processed.

For example, today's tubgrinders handle close to 300 cubic yards per hour, six times the capacity of earlier models.

This increased capability reflects a major shift in technology in less than four years that has helped lower production costs on sites with large volumes of wood waste. However, the increasing costs of these machines has kept many smaller operators from expanding.

The Effect Of Politics Public pressure and government regulations have affected the way wood waste is managed. After Hurricane Andrew, open burning of wood wastes was prohibited in south Florida. Air quality concerns led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire private processors to grind wood waste.

Wisconsin is now banning open burning of wood waste. In Minnesota, burning permits have shifted from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to the state's Department of Natural Resources.

The market for wood wastes also is changing. Unlike many parts of California and New England, where excellent fuel markets are available for wood waste, the Midwest relies on landscape products for end markets. While landscape markets are expanding in most metropolitan areas, there are already well-established composts, mulches and chip products in each region. In Georgia, pine needles are the primary mulch marketed. In California, redwood mulch is often specified by landscape architects. And in Florida, cypress mulch is widely used.

Prior to 1990, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area purchased large volumes of cypress mulch from Florida and cedar chips and mulches from the Pacific Northwest. At the time, there were no established markets for chips and mulches manufactured from local wood waste. Today's bulk shipments of cypress and cedar mulches have been replaced with processed wood waste.

The landscape market continues to change as consumers purchase recycled products. For example, Ceres only manufactured a handful of different products in 1991. Now it makes soil amendments for yard and garden stores, large wholesalers, landscapers and organic farmers.

Recycling Tree Waste Hennepin County's Tree Waste Recycling Facility is located in Maple Grove, Minn., just north of Minneapolis. This site is open to all individuals, municipalities and businesses generating tree wastes in this county of more than one million residents.

The county provides a scalemaster and bills customers. Ceres provides the site, equipment and personnel for processing, marketing and transporting the finished product.

Ceres purchased more than $1.1 million in equipment, including three tubgrinders, two trommel screens, several shaker screens, a barrel chipper, two log chippers and other specialty handling equipment.

Hennepin County pays Ceres per ton to receive and process wood waste. The facility currently handles 25,000 tons per year. Approximately 95 percent of this material is eventually moved into the landscape market. The remaining 5 percent is either sent to local saw mills or to green wood fuel users.

Although the majority of wood waste is provided by private contractors and municipal crews, a significant number of local residents deliver wood waste to the facility. Like any processing site, transportation and competing uses for wood waste limit the expansion of the feedstock supply.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Ceres procures about 10 percent of the generated wood supply. It competes with three smaller processors for logs and stumps, but open burning sites and tree trimming services dispose of most of the wood. Most tree services chip brush and small branches in pull-behind chippers. The chipped brush is brought to Ceres Environmental, while logs and stumps are hauled to the Hennepin County Tree Waste Recycling Facility or to other sites. Logs and stumps are used in rural fields and ravines.

During the spring and summer, the company's marketing staff contacts every land clearing project in Hennepin County, where demand for landscape products exceeds the wood waste supply. Because transportation costs are a major factor for tree contractors, Ceres likely will open new processing sites.

Product Marketing Ceres sells bulk compost, mulches and wood chips to yard and garden stores within a 350-mile radius of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is also a large user of its landscape products. The firm has cultivated several new niche markets for wood waste, including biofilter media, poultry bedding and playground surface material.

Product quality is a critical factor in servicing the wide array of end users. Yard and garden stores receive the highest quality, double-ground and double-screened products. Blond, brown and black colored chips and mulches are available. Color variations are accomplished by aging products. Trommel and shaker screens can also be used to vary product textures. Many local landscapers prefer long, stringy, cross-grain barrel chips or mulches instead of angular chips because the material does not migrate into lawns and cause problems with equipment.

Transportation is another critical factor in product marketing. Most large landscapers require semi-trailer deliveries to their job sites. Ceres maintains a fleet of six delivery trucks. During the spring, summer and fall, it sells 200 tons per day of soil amendments produced from wood waste.

Human resources are the final and most critical factor. Ceres has a marketing and sales manager who sells its products full time. Developing new accounts and servicing existing accounts are other important marketing tasks. Product quality checks are a daily part of production. All equipment operators have been trained to maintain the highest quality because of the economic importance of selling chips and mulches.

Markets for green wood fuel chips may expand in Minnesota in the near future due to increasing interest from co-generation facilities. It is expected that by the end of the century, several co-generation facilities will be accepting lower quality wood chips and possibly processed demolition waste.

Under a state grant, Ceres will test using clean demolition to manufacture landscape products.

Adapting to changes in technology, politics and market structure will enable companies to succeed in the wood waste business. Anticipating and adjusting to these changes will be the challenge for all wood waste processors in the future.

Under a grant from the Minnesota Office of Waste Management, Ceres is experimenting with clean demolition in the manufacture of landscape products. It currently makes products from demolished wood frame buildings, pallets and dimensional lumber. Product end users are being surveyed to determine desirable attributes for mulches and wood chips. The company is also trying to find the highest quality feedstocks. It experiments with different kinds of demolition waste blends with whole tree chips.

Initial survey results from indicate a potential market for demolition-derived products, if products can be manufactured with acceptable colors and textures. All demolition-derived products will be analyzed by soil scientists and soil amendment buyers. Their responses will be used to formulate better demolition-derived products.