Posts

A city park with trees

Urban Forest Wood-An Innovative Look at Recycling

What happens when urban trees reach their end of life?

Urban trees are one of those remarkable stories that largely flies under the radar. We appreciate how a large canopy can shield us from the intense summer sun or help keep us dry during an unexpected downpour, but most of the time, we take them for granted. We shouldn’t.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, urban trees offer a wealth of benefits. Did you know that a mature tree can absorb up to 150 kg of CO2 per year? Aside from sequestering carbon and creating biodiversity, trees help filter pollutants and fine particulates. They also reduce energy requirements for air conditioning and heating when strategically placed.

Research has found that trees aid city dwellers’ physical and mental health and their presence even boosts real estate value. But for urban trees, the story hasn’t always had a happy ending. At the end of life, too often, they have ended up in the waste stream, chipped or burnt, a low repayment for many decades of civic service. The rise of the urban wood movement, however, offers a more promising path.

The sustainability case for upcycling harvested urban wood is compelling. Approximately 3.8 billion board feet of urban wood harvested annually from U.S. cities could be processed into lumber – not counting fire salvage or orchard rescue trees. Utilizing just 10% of that urban wood harvest currently chipped or left to rot would have an equivalent impact on removing 732,000 cars from the street.

The urban wood movement has been growing in recent decades as people have increasingly recognized the value of harvested city trees that had long been underutilized. One of those many stories is told by Jennifer Alger, Director of the Urban Wood Network Western Region, a not-for-profit organization.

She grew up, she said, riding in her dad’s truck as he scoured neighborhoods looking for trees that needed to be taken down. He had been a contract logger by summer and a burl buyer for a firearms manufacturer in winter.

But when the logging business bottomed in the early 1980s, “I spent my childhood in a vehicle with Dad buying these random dead or dying trees from people’s houses,” she recalled. And so he was doing urban lumber before the term ‘urban lumber’ was even coined. At that time, they were cutting for firewood and cellophane wrapping bundles of it for retailers.

Her father recognized the value of timber from the wood world, and it pained him to be cutting perfectly good lengths of material into firewood.  “Why are we cutting these logs into firewood?”, he asked Jennifer, “These logs are gorgeous”.

They began setting aside the best logs and stockpiled them. Finally, they bought their first portable band sawmill in the 1990s, allowing them to mill lumber. Similar stories are told around the country by other companies and participants who recognize the value of harvesting urban wood.

Like others in the urban wood recovery business, Jennifer found a knowledge void regarding its potential value. With that thought in mind, she began networking informally in the early 2000s with the help of CalFire and the United States Forest Service to reach out to arborists and other stakeholders about more sustainable outcomes for urban trees. “We were importing all these hardwoods from either the East Coast or from overseas and here in California, we were spending hours on chipping them, burning, or landfilling – all of these scenarios,” she recalled.

One of the myths that needed to be overcome was that urban trees would be too expensive to mill because of embedded steel objects.” Everybody told me that it costs too much to mill these urban trees because they have nails in them, and so it’s just going to be too costly.” She responded that they were already milling urban trees at her company, and with the value of a blade only $17 or $20, “not that big of a deal.”

In 2016, Urban, Salvaged, & Reclaimed Woods Inc., a West Coast non-profit network was incorporated. In networking with other groups around the country, however, group members discovered that different regions had slightly different perspectives about urban wood. For example, some regional networks included reclaimed lumber from deconstruction, while others included only urban trees.

“The urban wood movement is big and it’s catching on worldwide,” Jennifer said. “But we recognized that we were fragmented.” That fragmentation was standing in the way of building a stronger industry. Collectively, the urban wood communities recognized the need to rebrand, as well as to create standards and certification programs that would help build consumer trust and shield customers from poor quality suppliers.

After much discussion with each of the networks around the country, it was determined that we would unite under the Urban Wood Network with the previous West Coast group becoming the Urban Wood Network Western Region. As a result of that collaboration, urban wood can be described as:

“Any wood that was not harvested for its timber value and was diverted from or removed from the waste-stream and developed or redeveloped into a product. Urban wood can come from three sources: Deconstruction, fresh-cut urban trees, & salvaged wood.”

The group is working towards several initiatives to increase the professionalism of the industry, including the establishment of lumber grades specific to urban timber and chain of custody certification program.

Jennifer is currently working with an expert team of developers and customer experience specialists on the build-out of AncesTREE™ an Inventory Management System and enterprise application that will allow users to easily adhere to the industry standards, track the chain-of-custody, manage their inventory, and generally better manage and grow their urban lumber businesses.

An integrated approach is increasingly being sought, involving cities, municipalities, and large corporate or educational campuses. Attention to pruning and tree care with eventual salvage in mind can boost the marketable value of timber.

The establishment of urban forest management plans and policies can make an important difference for the industry going forward. The establishment of policies will make the urban wood industry less vulnerable to the loss of key urban wood supporters in key decision-making roles.

There are several forces at play that are helping drive the urban wood movement. On one hand, there are increasing restrictions regarding the landfilling of wood waste. On the other hand, people recognize the substantial benefits of using urban wood. With its beautifully unique appearance, it creates one-of-a-kind home products, while supporting local businesses. Using local urban wood also is a celebration of local history, while playing a part in diverting waste and sequestering carbon.

These days, many individuals and organizations are helping to script a more sustainable end of life scenario for urban trees through solid wood recovery. “By networking together, we can build awareness that brings these trees back into the social and economic lives of the communities they came from in the form of lumber, slabs, flooring, siding, furniture, art, architecture and other value-added wood products,” the Urban Wood Network states at its website.

For her part, Jennifer believes that the groundwork the Urban Wood Network is creating today will set the stage for the growth of the urban wood movement and a more sustainable outcome for city trees. Through its focus on education, standards, and promotional assistance, she sees a bright future. “We expect in the next two to five years an absolute explosion of the urban network and its membership,” she concluded.

Storm-Damaged Trees Salvaged for Value

Storm-Damaged Trees Salvaged for Value

In the past, whenever trees were brought down or completely destroyed by heavy winds and storms, or even by some type of disease which ravaged whole stands of trees, those trees had to be discarded in landfills or ground up to be burned. However, a family-run sawmill in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada is showing the way for such trees to be recycled and repurposed, so they don’t go to waste.

Image Attribute: Image supplied by Flickr; Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

While the business name of this facility is actually Sawmill Sid’s, it’s owner Sidney Gendron refers to it as a Tree and Wood Recovery Center. Whenever his family-run business receives in damaged or diseased trees, they are converted into useful materials for housing and construction, furniture, and sometimes even art pieces. The Sawmill Sid’s business is just one example of a whole new industry which is springing up, to reduce the amount of materials dumped in landfills by recycling them into highly desirable commercial products. This industry has a definite conservation element to it, fully intending to reduce the planet’s carbon footprint, while making maximum use of renewable resources like trees.

Aftermath of the storm

Whenever storms with high winds strike areas within trucking distance of Sawmill Sid’, trucks full of damaged trees are brought into the sawmill for re-purposing, and the number of trees damaged by such weather events can be in the thousands. When Mother Nature isn’t providing damaged wood for recycling, donations come into the sawmill from nearby cities, or from private companies who want to discard their used wood products. Already a thriving market has developed for the recycled wood produced at Sawmill Sid’s, including artisans, craftsmen, restaurateurs, developers, and renovators, many of whom want to do their part for conservation, and all of whom simply want to take advantage of products which are useful to their businesses.

Avoiding the landfill

As Sidney Gendron is well aware, it’s crucial that as much discarded wood as possible is spared from nearby landfills, or chopped up into wood chips, because these outcomes will end up releasing additional carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere, and adding to the greenhouse effect. In a single year, the re-purposed wood from Gendron’s recovery center prevented more than 7,000 tons of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere, by capturing those potential emissions in re-purposed wood products.

Wood recycling in the future

Gendron and his whole family firmly believes that the future of wood recycling is extremely bright, especially since relatively few people are currently aware of the potential for re-purposing damaged trees. In another part of Canada, the Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group, headquartered in Alberta, is spearheading a drive to make government groups aware of the potential for wood recycling.

The aim of his group and other similar groups is to increase awareness of government officials, all the way down to individual citizens, about the value of recycling wood products. While it has been slow going at the outset, advocates for recycling wood fully expect that once the message gets out, people around the globe will have the same kind of interest in recycling wood as they do for materials such as plastic, bottles, and others.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the reuse and recyclability of wood products, especially wood packaging. More than 95% of wood pallets are recovered from landfills and recycled into garden mulch, animal bedding, and other creative uses.

Resources

Local sawmills makes sure trees downed by major wind storm don’t go to waste

 

How Trees Sweat

How Trees Sweat

If Trees Had Sweating Glands to Cool Off From The Heat

During extreme heat waves it’s common for people to seek relief under the shade of a tree yet few of us wonder how trees themselves survive these extreme conditions. Researchers from the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment grew trees under controlled climate conditions to see how trees survive these harsh conditions. They discovered that leaves have their own way to survive abnormal heat by releasing water to cool themselves off. This act is very similar to the way humans sweat in order to cool our body temperature.

Over the course of one year researchers learned that trees continuously expel water through leaves when under duress caused by extreme heat. Essentially, this is how trees survive heat waves. Before this was discovered, scientists thought that photosynthesis and water expulsion were merged processes, which means for one to happen, another also needed to happen. They learned this is not the case.

Although these trees were grown in artificial conditions, they provide accurate projections of how trees will respond during extremely hot weather conditions.  When trees under artificial conditions were exposed to the equivalent of a four day heat wave, during peak temperatures, trees stop sequestering carbon. On a larger scale, this means that forests, whether urban or rural, if exposed to extreme heat will stop sequestering carbon. Over time, if global temperatures continue to rise, this could have greater consequences on a forest’s ability to act as a carbon sink.

How Trees Cool Themselves

Under normal conditions, trees cool themselves by a process calls evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the process of water evaporating from leaves when the sun’s rays hit the trees canopy. In some cases tree canopies can divert up to 60% of incoming radiation through this process. However, it can only happen when trees are healthy. If a tree is stressed due to drought or a beetle infestation then the process of evapotranspiration could be slowed or absent entirely.

In North America, more trees are planted than are harvested due to its high standards of sustainable forest management practices. When forests are healthy and sustainably managed they sequester carbon from the atmosphere to help lower global temperatures. Nature’s Packaging supports the use of sustainably sourced lumber used in wood packaging across North America.

References:

How do Trees Grow?

How do Trees Grow?

Wood is strong, flexible, and has been used in a variety of building applications for hundreds of years because it is safe and is a renewable resource. There are many external factors that can affect trees and thus the quality of lumber they produce.  These external factors can have significant impacts on the mechanical properties of wood and results in many dramatic changes such as a difference in density, growth rate, tree size and more.  Annual growth rings are the rings found inside the tree and these growth rings often give environmentalists the most clues as to what journey a tree experienced in its lifetime.

How do Trees Grow?

Trees grow in two directions. First, they grow upwards in order to absorb more sunlight. Then they grow outward to expand in diameter as the tree matures.  The upward and outer growth occurs at different times depending on the species of tree and the season.

The outer bark protects the tree from fluctuating temperatures, insects, diseases and is a tree’s first line of defense from its environment. When a tree is healthy then its bark remains intact, allowing the tree to defend itself from insect attacks such as the devastating mountain pine beetle epidemic.

Tree rings that are reflected in a cross-section of a tree are the lines that will reveal most about tree growth.  Each ring resembles one year of growth. They are created because trees grow faster during certain seasons and remain dormant during other seasons like winter.  These rings will differentiate in width depending on the environmental situation the tree experienced.  During heavy rainfall and good environmental conditions, the year rings will be much wider compared to drought seasons where the rings are much thinner.

In some cases, trees can take up to fifty years to reach maturity in order to be harvested for commercial use. As a tree grows it sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and that carbon is stored in the wood throughout its life cycle. The carbon forms long chains that are the backbone to cellulose, which is the primary component of lumber that helps make it a strong and durable material. Many of the products and resources we use every day arrive at our local grocery stores by means of a wood pallet. Wood pallets are a safe, durable, and sustainable way to transport goods and materials needed across the world.

References

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

Trees within forests are like wind and solar power in that they are a renewable resource. Whereas wind and solar energy can be regenerated relatively continuously, trees require more time to convert solar energy to wood so it can be utilized. In this article we’ll take a quick look at a tree’s growth cycle.

Tree seedlings will often wait for ideal environmental conditions to arise before sprouting.  Some species of tree seeds will remain intact for many years, waiting for the perfect environment, while others will only sprout under extreme conditions such as a forest fire. Only when the seeds are exposed to the right conditions will they sprout.

A seedling will appear above the ground and the first two leaves will start to absorb sunlight to provide energy for further growth. Seedlings will then start developing woody characteristics and will continue to grow and seek out the sun. Saplings are usually 1 – 4 inches in diameter and about 4.5 feet in height.  Many nurseries will sell saplings at this point in the tree’s growth cycle because they are capable of being transplanted with a high survival rate.

It is during the early growth phases of a tree’s life that it absorbs the most amount of carbon. During the process of photosynthesis, young trees convert carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen and use the carbon internally for growth. When hundreds of thousands of trees within a forest complete this process simultaneously, they fight global warming by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

About half of any given piece of lumber’s net weight is carbon that was sequestered from the atmosphere and lumber will continue to store that carbon until it naturally disintegrates or is burned for energy. No part of a tree goes to waste! The bark and branches are used for supplies like garden mulch and animal bedding whereas the lower quality of lumber from a tree is used to make wood pallets. According to the research article “Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills,” there are about 4 billion wood pallets in circulation just in the United States. Wood pallets have been used for decades and have established themselves as the safest and most reliable way to transport goods and services while storing carbon sequestered from the atmosphere.

References

Forest Management Technology

Forest Management Technology

Up to now, forest management has had to take a very hands-on, personal inspection kind of approach, so that specific trees could be marked for cutting and removal, and the forest in general could be culled of unhealthy specimens. However, the onslaught of forest fires over the past decade has virtually overrun this old-school method of management, and hastened the advent of a more high-tech solution.

Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

Forward-thinking managers at The Nature Conservancy are now in the process of testing out a solution which holds great promise for faster, cheaper, and more accurate management of forest lands. This comes in the nick of time, with forest fire disasters mounting up, and millions of acres of prime land being consumed recently by raging conflagrations.

The new technology

The problem faced by solution seekers was a daunting one – how to retain much of the same individual inspection capability, but on a much larger scale, so that dying and dead trees could quickly be removed. Those trees provide much of the fuel for forest fires which get out of control, and take down enormous stands of healthy trees with them.

Enter the Digital Restoration Guide (DRG). This software program offers the same kind of direct approach as painting dead trees, while capitalizing on the speed of computers to cover much larger territories in much less time. A forester equipped with a mobile computer loaded with DRG software can patrol large areas on an ATV, entering relevant information about specific GPS coordinates of areas, and the health of trees contained within those sectors. Later, tree harvesters can use the map created by the DRG software and the information recorded by the forester, to know which trees need to be culled.

In the first full-blown pilot test of the software, a target area of 327 acres was used to see how the new technology compared to more traditional methods of forest management. Supporters were gratified to find that the process was roughly five times faster than the time needed by the walk-and-paint method, and it cost less than half as much to execute.

Those aren’t the only benefits – the recorded information can be used in other ways as well, to estimate tree numbers, sizes, and the interspace between trees. In the past, separate trips would have to be made to gather such information when it was needed, and that resulted in additional cost and expenditure of time.

Future usage

With the unquestioned success of the new tree-mapping software, it has been approved for surveying tracts of land in the thousands of acres. It also seems likely that usage will be expanded into even more productive and more all-encompassing arenas. Already, tech gurus are considering how to get the software airborne to conduct very large survey missions, and extend the reach and the effectiveness of modern forest management.

Resources:

Forest Health Benefits from Genomics

Forest Health Benefits from Genomics

Photograph by Flickr; distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

In addition to sustainably managing North American forests, foresters are working hard to ensure that the trees planted today will survive for the next generation. Canadian scientists working in field called genomics are identifying the trees that natural selection seems to favor and using those saplings to plant the next generation of North American forests.

Natural selection in forests favors the survival of trees capable of withstanding insect attacks, animal attacks, and changing climate conditions. For instance, trees vulnerable to beetle attacks, specifically pines, are either weakened from drought or otherwise unable to produce sufficient amounts of sap to ward off the attacks. Trees that thrive in spite of these hardships have adapted to survive. Using genomics, foresters identify those beneficial genetic traits to ensure they will be passed on to the next generation of trees planted in forests.

The saplings for the next generation are not being genetically modified. Genetic modification is different than genomics. According to the University of Nebraska’s Ag Biosafety department, genetic engineering is the process of manually adding new DNA to an organism. In genomics, no new DNA is being added to the tree’s original DNA.

The benefits of planting more trees that natural selection has favored are plentiful. According to its website, Genome BC, one of Canada’s leading genomics research firms, has invested $77.6 million in funding for forestry related research products. These investments are expected lower costs for the Canadian forest industry. In Canada, all lumber that is imported must be tested for pests and pathogens. In using genomics, those tests could be expedited and could indefinitely lower testing costs.

Another application is selectively breeding cedar trees that have more terpenes. Terpenes are chemicals that leave a bitter taste and increasing the amount of terpenes in cedar saplings would prevent deer from eating them. Sustainably managing forests also means ensuring that there will be forests for our future. If saplings cannot survive then there will not be forests for our future.

Resources

How Urban Trees Can Save Lives

How Urban Trees Can Save Lives

Excess carbon in the atmosphere amplifies the greenhouse effect and planting trees helps mitigate that impact because trees sequester carbon. But in urban areas, planting trees could provide even more localized benefits. A new study published by The Nature Conservancy suggests that if more trees were planted in larger cities, then residents in those cities could benefit from cooler temperatures and reduced air pollution.

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Trees cool the area around them by providing shade. Additionally, they use some of the sun’s warm energy during photosynthesis, effectively absorbing it from the atmosphere. Studies show that the combined efforts of these two factors can cool the surrounding local climate, resulting in cooler temperatures. Trees also act as natural filters that eliminate certain particulates and pollutants, effectively cleaning the air.

According to The Nature Conservancy study, cities with a low cost of planting trees, high levels of pollution and heat, and high population density would be expected to see the highest return on their investment. The study suggests that if $3.2 billion were invested among 245 of the world’s most populated cities, then up to 36,000 lives could be saved every year. Moreover, it’s estimated that an investment of this size could provide 77 million people with relief on the hottest days of the year by reducing temperatures and 68 million people would benefit from reductions in particulate matter pollution. This could save up to 48 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity for air conditioning and prevent up to 13 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Choosing City Trees

Perhaps the number of trees planted in cities isn’t the only factor that should be considered. Urban developers often select trees to plant primarily for aesthetic purposes. However, one group of scientists think the focus should shift from aesthetics to biodiversity. In a new study published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning, Dr. Juliane Vogt observes that city planners frequently use between 10 to 15 different species of trees to plant in a city and suggests that that’s not enough to support biodiversity.

For many species of life, the habitat of urban life presents them with an opportunity for new beginnings. The benefit, then, of having more biodiversity of trees in cities is that it could support the survival and evolution of other animals in cities that otherwise couldn’t survive. Perhaps the benefits of planting more trees in densely populated, polluted urban areas could be expanded if a greater variety of tree species were also considered.  Moreover, the planting of a wide variety of trees would make urban areas less susceptible to widespread loss in the event of an insect or pathogen attack.

To search where tree planting can reduce heat in your city, visit the Planting Healthy Air Report below.

Resources

© 2021 Nature's Packaging® is federally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office by the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association. All rights reserved.