Alabama has about 23 million acres of timberland — the third-largest timberland acreage in the United States, after Oregon and Georgia. As a result, forestry is a key industry in our state. Pulp, paper, and lumber production contribute thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the Alabama economy every year.
With the advantages comes a responsibility to perform silvicultural activities in a manner that’s ethical, safe, and sustainable. Below, we highlight the risks of hazardous wastes in the industry and the importance of protecting the integrity of our forests.
Production of Hazardous Wastes in the Forestry Industry
When we consider the forestry industry, we don’t immediately associate it with hazardous waste materials. After all, wood is a renewable resource and largely considered an ethical construction material.
Still, wood production does create waste. As silvicultural activities center on harvesting and managing forest resources in a sustainable way, it’s reasonable to conclude that generated wastes must also be managed in the same manner. Before we get into waste management, however, we’ll highlight the types of wastes produced by the forestry industry:
- Waste Solvents: The wastes formed by solvents such as turpentine, acetone, and ethanol may end up generating atmospheric pollutants and contaminating groundwater systems.
- Waste Petroleum Distillates: Distillates are a result of the chemical separation of products. While the separation process can be extremely useful and can even be used to create clean fuel, the current separation process has many flaws. One such flaw is the production of waste petroleum distillates, which are hazardous to the environment.
- Sludge: Every year, the United States produces millions of tons of waste sludge. In the forestry industry, this sludge is often made up of woody forest and timber processing logging residues. The recyclability of forest sludge depends on the wood it came from. Upwards of 25% of tree biomass is left on the forest floor during timber harvesting activities. What is clear is that only a small portion of forest sludge is currently being recycled or recovered in any way.
The Safe Management of Hazardous Waste Materials
Hazardous waste materials aren't just bad for the environment. The improper management of hazardous wastes can have serious consequences for the health and wellness of your team members. In Alabama, there are a number of regulations pertaining to the management of hazardous waste materials, including:
- OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Regulations
- DOT (Department of Transportation) Regulations
- HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Regulations
Because of regulatory requirements and the liabilities at stake, silvicultural or harvesting residues should be handled by experienced waste disposal providers. Essentially, hazardous waste materials have to be collected safely, placed in specially marked containers for transportation, and then processed in facilities that have been specially built for the purpose.
Be aware, however, that forestry waste materials differ in terms of recyclability. In general, a little less than half of the wood waste generated by the forestry industry is recyclable. Non-recyclable wastes are usually incinerated.
No company wants to be held liable when industrial wastes proliferate and endanger the health of humans and the environment. By taking measures to eradicate improper waste management processes, you can ensure a healthier workforce and a stronger environment to sustain your industry for years to come.