Massachusetts C&D recyclers are recovering from a major market disruption for wood — their highest-volume commodity — that led to the state-approved disposal of material by two companies for many months this year.
The state’s waste ban regulations prohibit sending treated or untreated wood to landfills, and diverting this material is also a top priority in the state Department of Environmental Protection’s 2030 solid waste plan. That plan calls for a 30% reduction in disposal volumes across multiple categories by 2030, and a 90% reduction by 2050. As of 2018, the plan’s baseline year, the state disposed 287,773 tons of treated wood and 229,710 tons of untreated wood.
MassDEP envisions sizable reductions in disposal volumes for each category, especially treated wood, and touts at least $750,000 worth of grants in the last five years dedicated to pulling more out of the C&D waste stream. Local recyclers are generally supportive of this push and say end markets are usually reliable, but the absence of those options is also quickly felt.
Plainfield Renewable Energy, a biomass plant in Connecticut, shut down indefinitely in late May due to a turbine failure. This site handled an estimated 15% of C&D wood from Massachusetts. Material quickly became harder to move, depending on vendor relationships.
Then, over the summer, Canadian particle board manufacturer Tafisa temporarily shut down its Quebec facility for maintenance. Tafisa received an estimated 75% of the state’s C&D wood, meaning some Massachusetts operators had to temporarily stop taking material at all during part of August.
MassDEP issued at least 12 wood disposal waivers for two companies this year. It started with WIN Waste Innovations — one of the state’s largest C&D recyclers — on May 27, as the Plainfield facility shut down. WIN’s initial waiver allowed for the disposal of up to 800 tons per week, across four facilities in the areas of Taunton, Leominster and Millbury. Shortly after, on June 10, a 700-ton-per-month waiver was also issued to USA Hauling & Recycling for one facility in the town of Wilbraham.
The agency specified that waivers are subject to companies making ongoing efforts to find alternative markets and divert material from disposal as much as possible. Subsequent waivers were issued for the two companies throughout the year, peaking at 1,000 tons per week for WIN Waste in late July around the time of the Tafisa shutdown. The most recent waivers issued this fall had a more limited scope.
“Even under normal circumstances, there are few outlets for these materials, which makes end disposal challenging, at times. However, we are accustomed to adapting to changing market conditions and are committed to overachieving on these important sustainability initiatives,” said Mary Urban, WIN Waste’s director of communications, community engagement and marketing, via email in mid-November. “Currently we are holding some of the wood processed, as permissible, in hopes of outlet availability.”
Urban also noted that the company was “exploring alternatives for the recovered material so we can continue to overachieve” on the state’s minimum performance standards at C&D facilities.
USA Hauling could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this month, MassDEP reported the waivers had been reduced down to 300 tons per week for just two WIN facilities. The USA facility’s waiver was reduced down to 400 tons per month “due to increased use of alternative markets for the highest quality [material].” At the time, the latest WIN waiver was set to expire on Dec. 23, followed by USA’s waiver expiring on Jan. 9.
While this likely didn’t affect other large C&D recyclers in the state because they have alternate end markets, options are becoming more limited across the board. Massachusetts is also not the only state with some form of disposal limitation for wood, according to the Northeast Recycling Council.
John Thomas, a board member of the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association, said closures of other wood buyers in states such as New York and Pennsylvania have strained capacity in recent years. That made this year’s situation even more challenging.
"The closures were huge. There was already a limited market to be able to dispose of that, if you could meet the criteria under each of those locations,” said Thomas, who is also president of mining, materials and solid waste at The Mount Group in New Jersey. While Thomas said other biomass markets do exist, such as a Georgia Renewable Power facility to the south, "the challenge there is the logistics and making the pricing work.”
Tafisa’s facility has been fully operational again since August, but sources say arranging third-party transportation to the site has still been a limiting factor. A Tafisa representative recently told MassDEP that the company “anticipates a slight increase in demand for wood chip in 2023.” As for Plainfield, the company told MassDEP that a repaired turbine is set for installation in the coming weeks and the site could be fully operational for new volumes by February.
“We anticipate that the current wood waste ban waivers issued to two waste handling companies will be ending soon,” said Edmund Coletta, director of public affairs at MassDEP, in a Dec. 9 email. “This is due not only because of the improved market conditions of existing markets, but it is also attributed to the successful efforts by the processors who received the waivers to find alternative markets as a condition of the waiver approvals.”