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Innovative Municipal Urban Wood Recycling Takes Hold Across America!

Innovative municipal wood recycling initiatives are gaining traction across America, addressing both environmental concerns and offering compelling economic and social benefits. Annually, approximately 36 million urban trees succumb to disease, pollution, climate change, storms, and urbanization, prompting a reevaluation of wood waste management practices. If fully utilized, an estimated 8 billion board feet of quality urban wood could be produced locally, yet almost all this potential resource is currently chipped, burned, or sent to landfills, releasing about 23 million metric tonnes CO2e emissions into our atmosph­­ere.

Recognizing this underutilized resource, businesses and communities nationwide are beginning to embrace the environmental, social, and economic advantages of urban wood. This industry is gaining momentum from Elkhart, Indiana, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Fort Collins, Colorado, to Sacramento, California, and beyond, a paradigm shift in wood waste management is evident.

As showcased in this recent below produced by The Hustle, Baltimore, Maryland’s, Camp Small, a 5-acre municipal wood collection and processing facility, exemplifies this trend, repurposing dead trees into quality lumber for things such as benches, play spaces, and furniture for the community.

Another example right here in Michigan is in Ann Arbor, where in August of 2023, the City of Ann Arbor's forestry department identified an oak wilt infection within Bird Hills Nature Area. Fast forward to January, following extensive trenching in the fall, the city completed the necessary tree-felling and site remediation to address the issue.

While oak wilt isn't new to Michigan, this marks its first occurrence in an Ann Arbor nature area. To combat it, the forestry department, alongside the Natural Area Preservation (NAP) division, implemented a multi-faceted plan involving both above and below-ground actions. Trenching was conducted to isolate infected trees, and subsequent tree removal aimed to prevent further spread.

However, to help mitigate the loss of these giant oaks, Ann Arbor is leveraging its new wood recycling program in partnership with Urban Ashes and their Circular UrbanWood Triconomy™ (CUT™) model. This initiative salvaged about 50 logs that will yield approximately 7000 board feet of quality urban red oak, diverting valuable resources from the chipper or burn pile and reducing carbon emissions, while helping to better secure the local wood supply chain for local construction and manufacturing projects.

To see this transformative story, check out this short video.

Through the CUT model, Ann Arbor is pioneering a triple bottom line approach—focusing on environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic diversity. The benefits are manifold: cutting tipping fees, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, tracking carbon sequestration, fostering local manufacturing infrastructure, and creating job/business opportunities. All of this directly aligns with Ann Arbor’s A2 Zero’s proactive goals.

Urban Ashes is taking its model across Michigan and the country, actively working with Detroit, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and several cities in Oregon. This expansion promises to extend the positive impacts of wood recycling, full-circle urban forestry and sustainable urban development far beyond Ann Arbor's borders.

By embracing innovative solutions like the CUT™ model in Ann Arbor and Baltimore’s Camp Small wood recycling program we not only address immediate challenges like oak wilt and emerald ash borer devastation, but it also sets a precedent for sustainable urban development and full circle urban forestry. Other municipalities are encouraged to explore similar strategies, not only for environmental conservation but also for social and economic advancement within their communities.


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