Logically, wood seems like it should be recyclable. After all, products like paper and cardboard, which are made from wood, are among the easiest materials to recycle. So, is wood recyclable? If you’ve got a black garbage bag full of scrap wood, should you go ahead and dump the contents into your curbside recycling bin?
Unfortunately, recycling wood isn’t quite as simple as you might hope — but that doesn’t mean throwing it away is your only option! Below, we’ll give you the full story on recycling wood, including whether you can put it in your curbside bin, plus alternative ways to dispose of it.
Is Wood Recyclable in a Curbside Recycling Bin?
The short answer: No. In almost all curbside recycling programs, putting any kind of wood in your recycling bin will probably result in the entire contents of the bin being marked as contaminated and sent to a landfill. (How long does trash live for in a landfill, you might ask? Read our article to find out the answers!)
Generally speaking, the materials recovery facilities (MRFs) that sort and process your recycling don’t have the capacity to process wood. Most MRFs only process standard single-stream recyclables like glass bottles and plastic containers. (Plus, as we’ll discuss in a minute, some types of wood can’t readily be recycled at all.)Fortunately, some specialty recycling centers do accept wood when it’s dropped off separately! Wood recycling facilities sell reclaimed wood to companies that use it to make various products, including paper and cardboard, plywood, mulch, pet bedding and even fuel for industrial processes. This helps keep wood supplies in a “closed loop,” where necessary wood products can be manufactured without the need to harvest more lumber from our forests.
Which Types of Wood Are Good for Reuse?Before dropping off that stack of scrap wood at your local wood recycling center, it’s important to consider which type of wood you have. The most reusable types of wood are “clean” woods which haven’t been painted or chemically treated in any way. These types of wood include:
- Most shipping pallets
- Branches, twigs, sticks and other tree waste
- Scraps from woodworking projects
- Most construction lumber and plywood
Which Types of Wood Can’t Be Reused?On the other hand, some types of wood are considered “dirty” and can’t be reused at all:
- Pressure treated lumber
- Anything painted, varnished or stained
- Wood that’s been rotted by fungus or insects
Other Options for Old WoodIf you don’t have a wood recycling facility available nearby, your wood doesn’t have to languish in a landfill. Consider any of the following options for disposing of it. Note, however, that most of these options are only appropriate for clean, non-treated, non-painted wood.
- Resell or Donate: What if you have a wooden item that’s still in good condition, but you just don’t use it? Look for a way to donate or resell it! This can be a great option for furniture, since the wood usually can’t be reused.
- Compost: Tree limbs, sticks and other types of yard waste wood are key elements of many people’s compost piles. They provide the carbon-rich “browns” that keep the microbes in your compost well-fed.
- Firewood: Got a fireplace or fire pit? That scrap wood could make an awesome campfire for your next outdoor get-together. (Just make sure to follow standard campfire safety rules and make sure that burning wood isn’t prohibited in your area.)
- Upcycle: Reclaimed wood is a stylish and durable decorating material, so those with some DIY skills might find that upcycling old wood into new furniture or decorations is a good way to go!
- Mulch or Sawdust: Making your own mulch is easier than you might expect, and it’s great for gardening and landscaping. Sawdust, too, has tons of uses you might not know about.
- Give Away: Just want to be rid of your scrap wood? Local secondhand sites like Craigslist often have “free” sections to list items you’re willing to give away.
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