Mill closure prompts Metro Council to change wood waste recycling rules

Saturday, Nov 14, 2015

Wood waste from the Portland region can now legally be sent to landfills, after the Metro Council suspended part of its requirements for the recovery of wood products.

The move to suspend part of the Metro Code came after the closure of a paper mill in Newberg. That mill burned about 350 tons of the Portland region's wood waste every day, keeping that wood from being buried in a landfill.

But the Newberg mill was unique in that it was old – so old in that it was exempted from recent federal regulations on its boilers. It could burn treated wood, laminated wood, railroad ties, painted wood and other construction waste that was sent there from the Portland region's recovery facilities.

Two other paper mills in the area, one in Camas and the other in Longview, can burn clean, so-called "blonde" wood that meets federal standards. But any treated, painted or otherwise contaminated wood will now be sent to a landfill.

Metro Solid Waste Compliance Program director Roy Brower said about half of the region's wood waste is "blonde" wood that can still be recovered to make energy.

A lot of the wood in question was brought by construction and demolition companies in mixed loads to transfer stations called recovery facilities. There, the loads of construction debris were sorted so that the materials brought in could be re-used or recycled if possible.

The suspended portion of the code said that no more than 15 percent of the material sent to landfills could be wood, metal and cardboard. The council voted unanimously Thursday to temporarily take wood out of that equation.

About 60,000 tons of wood a year will now be sent to landfills.

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said the region should continue to try to do more to find a better way to use the wood than simple disposal.

"We are keeping faith with the operators of our solid waste system that we will insist on recycling and reclaiming materials that have a market, that can be reclaimed," Stacey said. "We won't go through a phony exercise of feeling good about not throwing it in the garbage can."

There may not be a better home for the wood waste, though. The new federal regulations will limit boilers to use the cleanest types of wood. Even if the Newberg mill were to re-open, Brower said, they'd also have to meet the federal standard.

"There's no good place for that material to go right now," he said.

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