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How Its Made: Zero Waste, Sustainable Wood

By Neila Columbo
4/28/2014

The ubiquitous phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” has made an important leap in recent years from formal dictum by environmental advocates to an engaging pop culture movement that can be viewed as inspiration for the zero-waste concept.  A number of industries are beginning to connect the dots between recycling of its materials and the dividends of sustainability initiatives. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, industrial facilities in the United States generate 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste in land disposal units annually, thus as individuals begin to find ways to “reduce, reuse, recycle” in their daily lives, consumers are now looking to companies to contribute their part as well.

Zero waste programs are in a state of evolution as new technologies and start-ups emerge to address the needs of recycling large-scale waste, and such programs will likely need to be designed according to industry-specific needs. To illustrate, in the architecture and building community, the U.S. Green Building Council issues guidelines for LEED rating systems in environmental building design, yet what about the recycling efforts of companies which source building materials?

While reduce, reuse, recycle is a new concept to some companies, it has been a long-standing practice with The California Redwood Company (CRC), a subsidiary of the Green Diamond Resource Company, which provides such materials to architects and developers.  CRC has invested time in training on quality control and improving preventive and predictive maintenance planning activities. These methods have been used to improve efficiency and performance as part of its sustainability program. “This approach improves equipment reliability and reduces manufacturing defects that result in having more on-grade, shippable lumber available to customers and less going to waste as chips” according to Bill Highsmith, VP of Manufacturing.

In the mill, CRC has laser-scanning systems that are melded with computer optimization to precisely measure the logs and lumber to ten thousandths of an inch. This allows CRC to quickly decide how to edge and trim the boards into narrower pieces and shorter lengths. This helps to minimize the amount of waste CRC has on the boards and to gain more boards per volume of logs that come into the mill.

The process is such that approximately 60 percent of a log will be made into lumber because logs are round, truncated cones and lumber is square –thus unfortunately a portion of the lob will be waste, so about 32 percent will become chips and generally another seven percent of the log becomes sawdust. The bark is removed from the outside of the log and is then sold to other manufacturing companies. What chips and bark aren’t reused in CRC’s landscaping will then be transferred to a biomass electric generator. As for the sawdust, it is used as an amendment to soil enhancers and shavings in the generation of steam for drying the lumber.

CRC considers itself a zero waste manufacturer—in addition to lumber, the company states it utilizes every part of its logs for biomass electric generation, landscaping, soil amendment, heating, as well as boilers to generate steam for drying.

“We are proud to supply a product that is not only renewable and sustainable, but is also produced in a zero-waste facility. It really doesn’t get any greener than that,” Highsmith says.

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