Transforming Tree Waste into Sustainable Resources

Wood Utilization in the Wake of Emerald Ash Borer: A Cambium Initiative

An exploration of innovative wood biomass management strategies, particularly in the context of the Emerald Ash Borer crisis in the Twin Cities.

A Progressive Approach in the Twin Cities

In the Twin Cities, a new approach to managing tree waste is emerging. Here, regulations stipulate that tree waste cannot be sent to landfills; instead, it must be processed for higher uses. This policy forms part of Minnesota’s wood material use hierarchy, prioritizing sustainable and valuable uses of wood.

Yet, challenges in scaling and sustaining efficient wood waste management persist. Cambium’s study, commissioned by the Partnership on Waste and Energy, reveals that despite a strong foundation, the system is strained. One local arborist described the situation in Minneapolis-St. Paul as a "powder keg ready to explode," indicating that policy alone isn't sufficient; continuous investment and support are essential for sustainable natural resource management.

The Emerald Ash Borer Crisis

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle, poses a significant threat to ash trees in Minnesota. Since its discovery in 2009, EAB has put over 1 billion ash trees at risk. Projections suggest a surge in wood waste, particularly ash, in the coming years, emphasizing the need for effective management strategies.

Currently, most wood waste is processed for bioenergy, but with economic pressures and contractual changes, this may not be sustainable. Cambium’s team sought to identify alternative, higher-impact uses for wood waste.

Identifying Gaps and Opportunities

Our research involved engaging with over thirty stakeholders, from tree care companies to local businesses and community groups. This comprehensive approach provided insights into the current wood waste flow, revealing critical observations:

  • There's heavy reliance on bioenergy as a final outlet for wood biomass.

  • Tree care companies, as primary generators of wood waste, play a crucial role in determining how this biomass is utilized.

  • A significant portion of wood waste is transferred to the metro area for processing.

  • There's potential to redirect more wood waste into products like lumber and biochar.

The Twin Cities as a Model for Future Wood Waste Management

The Twin Cities’ response to the EAB crisis can serve as a model for other regions. In evaluating wood utilization strategies, we considered economic, environmental, and social factors. Our study details eight specific recommendations for the Twin Cities, outlining a framework for urban wood utilization.

These strategies, viewed as non-linear pillars, involve education, policy, and scalable program development. The success in Minnesota underscores the need for interconnectedness among stakeholders and a balanced approach to managing natural resources.

A Call to Action

Cambium’s work in the Twin Cities highlights the necessity of collaborative, multifaceted strategies in managing wood waste. To prioritize people and planet, we must embrace the complexity of these challenges and work together towards sustainable solutions.

To delve deeper into our Twin Cities Metro Area EAB Wood Waste Study, follow this link.