Many don’t give a second thought to the life of a utility pole; however, it’s very much top of mind for utility executives. It’s a critical part of a utility’s business profitability. And while most individuals won’t necessarily think about the utility pole or its destined end, many will care what you, as a company, so that will have an impact on the environment. Utility poles – or the disposal of them –definitely has an impact.
Sustainability Without the Price Tag
Like many industries in today’s global marketplace, utilities continue to adopt corporate-wide sustainability goals as a key part of their operating strategy. The disposal of treated and untreated wood waste is often an area in which utilities see an opportunity to adopt a more “green” approach to their business practices.
Traditionally, utility companies have been limited in their disposal options, with most having to resort to “landfilling,” which can present both environmental and logistical problems. The current dilemma for utilities—most of which strive to be environmentally responsible—is that sometimes the “greenest” approaches can also be the costliest to implement.
This doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. As with most sound, strategic decisions, striking the right balance of options provided will allow you to achieve corporate sustainability goals, all while managing the budget.
Understanding Your Options
Traditional landfill-based disposal programs often appear cheapest due to the lower initial disposal fees, however, when internal labor costs are included for cutting, sorting, or moving material to the landfill, the actual per-ton disposal costs increase significantly. Many are surprised to learn that the following options are not only better for the environment, but they can also actually be done in a cost-effective manner:
1) Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Incineration
This is an environmentally friendly method of generating energy using Penta and/or Creosote treated wooden poles (or untreated wood) as a biomass fuel source. The high-temperature incineration process converts the old wood waste into a new energy source which can be repurposed as electricity. Currently, roughly 2% of the electric energy used in the US is derived from wood waste disposed of in this manner.
2) Wood Waste Recycling
Depending on the type of wood waste being disposed of—and the toxicity of the waste stream—this is perhaps the most environmentally responsible wood disposal method. Typically used poles are repurposed for agricultural purposes, landscaping, pole barns, and the like.
3) Landfill Gas (LFG) Recovery
This method relies on capturing methane gas from existing landfills to help generate electricity and simultaneously reduce GHG emissions. The methane gas serves as an energy source to power turbines and, in turn, the turbines generate electricity for the grid. As biodegradable waste, wood poles and other untreated wood material produce methane during the degradation process.
Depending on the utility and the corporate level of commitment to environmental responsibility, any one of these methods may be the best overall solution—for both the environment and the bottom line.