All productive human activity produces waste in some form, and—while it may not seem like a profound philosophical question—we have always had to ask ourselves: “What do we do with all of this stuff once we’re done with it?”
Waste is often material we don’t really want to keep around, but we can’t help producing it, and it has to go somewhere. The first modern landfill started operating in 1937 in Fresno, California. In the years since, most Americans have come to take the facilities for granted, simply throwing waste away without thinking about where it is going.
Utilities too have long operated on the assumption that there is essentially limitless landfill space. In the eighty years since the first landfill was created, the vast majority of utilities have not changed their waste disposal operations, with most relying heavily on landfills to take in their used poles. The traditional model for most utilities is to cut up and pile the used poles in a dumpster. Once the dumpster is full, they call a local waste management company to come pick it up and empty it into a landfill.
Just to give some perspective: every year, about four million tons of treated wood utility poles are disposed of, and at least 60 percent (or 2.4 million tons, a conservative estimate) are landfilled. The space for these poles, though, is limited; this solution is unsustainable. Of course, when space goes down, the price of entry goes up.
There needs to be another alternative for the disposal of these poles. And while there are alternatives becoming available, both the utility industry and government regulators together need to address how best to dispose of poles that use chromated copper arsenate (CCA) as a treatment process. CCA poles are cost effective and continue to grow in market share, but per current regulations, they currently can only be disposed of via the landfill, as it can’t be incinerated. Fast-forward to twenty or thirty years from now, and, without the development of any new disposal solutions and associated changes in regulations, we’re going to have a majority of poles coming out of the ground that can’t go anywhere but the landfill—and there likely won’t be any landfill for them to go to.
Seriously consider your company’s disposal practices and what your future strategies are in this area; space is running out and the future of our environment is dependent upon our ability to be as sustainable as possible. Learn more about alternative disposal methods that may be available for your utility by visiting, barrybreede.com.