Someone’s trash is another’s treasure

Jul 09, 2020

Our aim at West Fraser is to use every part of the logs we harvest and source. After processing logs to make lumber or veneer, there’s wood left over called ‘residuals’, including sawdust, shavings, bark, and wood chips. All this wood fibre can be used for different benefits.

Beyond what is used at West Fraser’s mills to make products or generate carbon-neutral energy, we sell residuals to other businesses. Many companies are very specific about how “pure” they need the byproducts to be, particularly with wood chips or sawdust. We want to reduce waste and avoid sending wood fibre to the landfill. However, it can be harder to find companies that want to buy residuals mixed with other materials.

“Most of the time, we get locked into selling our byproducts to the usual customers and we get pretty narrow in our focus on what products go where and how we think they can be applied in the world around us,” says Jim Schmidt is the West Region Residual Manager. “We’re looking at more things that are non-traditional and give us an edge, or to really move something that has become problematic.”

How else can you use mixed residuals?

Bike Parks

One of those non-traditional outlets is a dirt bike park in Marion, Louisiana. The track was experiencing erosion on the trails, and run-off from the tracks was getting into the water supply. The owner, who also happens to be a truck hauler with West Fraser, spoke with Jim about needing to stabilize the soil of the park.

As it turns out, mixed sawmill residuals are the perfect cover to help reduce erosion and help native woody species get re-established. So far, almost seven thousand tons of residuals have been hauled from our Huttig mill to the bike park.

Since the mixed materials have been added to the park, the trails have greatly improved. The Huttig mill will continue to donate mixed residuals to the bike park until the end of the year.

Reclamation of Strip Mining Operations

The Leola Mill had a similar challenge to find a use for the mill’s mixed residuals. Alcoa, an aluminum company, contacted the mill looking for materials to help decommission strip mines in North Central Arkansas. More than 20 thousand tonnes of Leola’s residuals have been taken to the mining sites. Alcoa takes the mixed materials, partially composts it for six months and then, adds it to the soil.

“The wood fibre restores nutrient and water retention in the top layer of the soil and grows some of the most amazing pasture and turfgrass. The mines now have some of the most beautiful, growing green land that you wouldn’t have had any clue had been a strip mine,” says Jim.

Some landfills also buy our mixed byproducts. They mix it with commercial grease waste, which can be hard to dispose of otherwise.

New tools in the toolbox

All these different methods benefit not only other groups and businesses but also West Fraser. This way, organic, mixed residuals avoid the landfill and are used instead for beneficial purposes.

Jim adds: “Finding these options, it’s a good chance for us to make a positive impact on the community and also to solve a problem at the same time.”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to using residuals in our mills. For example, in Canada, sawdust and chips go to energy generation, and the MDF and pulp mills. Where residuals can be used is highly locational and mill dependent.

“While every mill might have different choices, certainly, now that I’ve seen what these byproducts can do, I’m looking for new opportunities. It’s just another tool in the toolbox to help us utilize the resources in our mills efficiently,” says Jim.