Wood Waste at the Construction Site

Construction Wastes: Waste Material or Raw Material?

Wood waste generated during the construction process has value in the marketplace. But does it have enough value to justify collecting, processing, and transporting it to buyers? That depends on several factors easily determined with a small investment of time and effort. The purpose of this web-page is to provide information that entrepreneurs can use to investigate strategies for making money from waste wood generated by the construction industry.


According to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory (USFPL), the three major sources of wood waste in the United States are municipal solid waste (MSW), construction and demolition activities, and wood residues from lumber manufacturing facilities. MSW is what we typically call garbage -- the materials and items discarded by residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources. Old tires, newspapers, worn out furniture and appliances, yard wastes, and food wastes are just a few examples of some of the components of MSW. Construction waste comes from waste materials generated during the construction, alteration, or repair of structures. Demolition waste comes from buildings and other structures that are torn down. Lumber manufacturing facilities generate large amounts of wood residues as a by-product of processing round logs into square and rectangular shaped lumber products. A study conducted by the USFPL found that out of a total of 60.4 million tons of wood products consumed by the U.S. construction industry in 1993, 7.1 million tons of wood waste were generated, and of this amount 67%, 6.3 million tons, is potentially recoverable (see Table 1 below for a breakdown by sector).

Table 1: Wood Waste Recoverability


Wood Waste Generated*

Amount Potentially Recoverable

Amount Currently Being Recovered



7.5 (30%)

no estimate available

Municipal Solid Waste 


7.4 (60%)

1.3 (9%)

New Construction, Remodeling, & Repair


5.9 (88%)

 no estimate available

 Lumber Mfg.**


82.1 (100%)

77.4 (94%)

*In millions of tons

** Bark residues are not included in these figures

Making Money From Wood Waste

There are two basic ways that entrepreneurs make money from waste wood materials recovered from the construction waste stream:
1) Adding Value

This involves taking construction waste material and doing something to it that gives it value in the marketplace. An example is a firm that collects clean solid wood scraps from construction sites, chips the wood into appropriate sized pieces and dyes them, to make a uniform and attractive mulch for landscaping applications.

Another strategy is to identify waste materials in the construction industry that serve as raw material inputs in a different industry. Wood scraps collected from construction sites, then processed to proper specifications and delivered to a Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) plant is an example of this. (MDF is a composition board frequently used in the manufacture of furniture and cabinets) MDF plants use wood chips as the primary raw material input for their product.

2) Supplying a Service that Helps Firms Avoid Waste Disposal Costs

Identifying less costly alternatives to transporting and disposing of construction wastes, often at distant landfills or incinerators, is a driving force among waste hauling and construction firms. This allows entrepreneurs who identify a use for a material in the construction waste stream to make money from two sources. You charge waste haulers or contractors a fee for taking waste material for which you have identified a use. As long as the amount you charge is less than the amount charged at area landfills, there is a strong incentive for firms to do business with you.

Some firms have identified strategies for making money from waste wood materials using a combination of methods. Big City Forest, a manufacturing firm that operates in the Bronx section of New York City is an example This firm takes damaged wood shipping pallets and repairs them for re-sale. Pallets that are too damaged to be repaired are taken apart and the boards are then used to make furniture. Big City Forest accepts damaged pallets from waste haulers and contractors throughout the city, and charges a fee for each pallet accepted. However, they charge less than the disposal fee at landfills and incinerators. In essence the raw materials for their products are transported to them for free, and they are paid money to accept them. They then manufacture various products from these materials and sell them to make still more money from this "waste material".

As a method toward helping entrepreneurs investigate market opportunities, specifications from manufacturers that use chipped or ground wood as a primary raw material input are listed below. The specifications listed here were compiled and published in Best Practices in Wood Waste Recycling, a booklet produced by the Clean Washington Center of Seattle, Washington. They are meant only as a general guide, as a source of information to illustrate what is required to process waste wood into a form that has value to firms that use wood fiber as a raw material input.

You should obtain precise and mutually agreed upon specifications from each individual firm before making business and financial decisions.


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For an idea of what producers might require, refer to information provided by the Clean Washington Center. Please keep in mind, that these are rough outlines, and information should still be confirmed with individual firms.


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