Wood Recycling: Can old decks be recycled?
By Rob Brink
TransWorld Skateboarding Business January 2003
The idea that wood can be recycled or reused and not hauled straight to the landfill makes sense—and it's not entirely uncommon, either. Across the country, many municipalities offer special pickup services, or recycling centers—or both—for yard waste and other wood materials, enabling wood waste to be reused in a range of ways. Applications include being ground up for mulch or landscaping materials, burned for energy, or reformed into particleboard or other wood-based products.
It's easy to assume wood waste resulting from skateboard manufacturing is recycled, however, this isn't always the case. As much as recycling seems like common sense, it's not as common in practice. And there's a reason for this. As with most industries, skateboard manufacturers must overcome many obstacles in order to accommodate an environmental consciousness. While some have found ways to make it work, others feel it's a no-win situation. On the bright side, it seems that the majority of manufacturers are making an effort.
Even if they can't manage a recycling program for their wood waste, they're searching for other ways to minimize waste, such as by ordering minimal-sized veneers versus oversized veneers. Also, manufacturers are using water-based inks and lacquers in attempt to avoid using harmful chemicals and toxins. A harsh reality for a lot of manufacturers is that sending waste to landfills is far less expensive than finding ways to recycle it. Considering this, industry manufacturers who exert any form of effort toward greater environmentally sound manufacturing processes deserve a pat on the back.
The first step in making a skateboard deck is ensuring that the veneers used are free of flaws and are of premium grade. Sorting through veneers is something that all woodshops do prior to lamination. Veneers are then put through a glue machine ensuring each veneer is covered with the correct amount of adhesive. Next, veneers are stacked with seven plies for each board. Stacks are placed inside molds in either hot or cold presses for a specified amount of time to form and set. Laminated veneers taken from the molds are left to cure a few days. The cured wood is usually drilled, and then cutting templates align on the truck holes for shaping.
Some companies use machines for cutting, while others opt for the traditional means of cutting out boards by hand, using a mold template and a craftsman with a trained eye.
Cut boards are then sanded and the rails rounded with sanders or routing machines. This is where excess wood waste comes into play and where recycling the waste is an environmentally positive measure. Paul Schmitt, president of PS Stix, has been recycling wood waste for over ten years. PS Stix manufactures about 50,000 decks a month, filling a 40-yard cubic container a week with scrap wood-sometimes two or three a week when production is higher. They're currently working on a system with new grinding equipment where, right at the saw, the excess wood material from cutting the decks will get ground up and 30 percent more wood can fit in a dumpster, which would mean 30 percent fewer trucks on the road delivering the ground-up wood.
Instead, ground material will be hauled straight to the energy generator and used as fuel to create electricity or steam.
But most manufacturers are looking into recycling options after the wood has made it to their dumpsters, rather than on the assembly line like Schmitt. Wood Laminates, a board manufacturer in Quebec, cuts about 4,000 boards a week and has a company that services the wood and sells the wood to be burned for heating. Because the heating bills up north are so high, Wood laminates is looking into installing a system where they can burn and recycle their wood into heating for their building.
But what about where the weather is warm? Grant Burns is the president of Vista, California-based Bareback skateboard manufacturing that cuts an estimated 30,000 boards a month. This leaves four three-yard bins of wood waste a day. "Quite a bit of wood," says Burns. "Its kind of unfortunate-it doesn't work for this area (Vista, California) because there are certain guys who don't want to take the wood because of the glue. They make it real tough in California. Even if we were freezing cold—anything that's a potential fire risk makes it hard to get permitted. Our pressroom is heated, and we need to have a heat pump that runs it. I would love to go with a potbelly stove or a heater that runs off of our waste, but it could never get permitted because to get it through the city it would be considered a fire hazard.
"It was so tough for me to get a dust collector put in—you wouldn't even believe. If we ever did something, it would probably be sending the wood to veneer mills that cut our veneers in upstate New York and Wisconsin. They take their scrap and burn it all to heat the factory. It runs their dryers, and it's a pretty self-sufficient way of running things."
ABC, which cuts 15,000 to 17,000 boards monthly like Bareback, has encountered pollution as their main obstacle. Craig Harbick, sales and production manager, explains: "Because a lot of the wood has pigment and glues in it, and people are using it for heat, they are actually burning it and releasing hazardous chemicals into the air. It becomes a major factor as a health hazard. I have talked to about a half a dozen people who do recycling. "I'm going to try to talk to a few more because we are trying to figure about a way to get rid of it. I thought maybe someone could compress it together and make really cool particleboard because of the stains in the wood. But it would end up costing more for us to send it to them, and it wouldn't really be worth it. If a lot of people are saying they are recycling wood, they are probably just chopping it up into little pieces and it is most likely going into a hole in the ground."
And what about the possibilities of skaters recycling their used decks? It is possible on the local level for a kid to remove his griptape and bring the deck down to the wood bin of the recycling center. But on a larger scale, the cost of collecting decks from shops and removing the griptape so it doesn't create a toxic residue, and burning it for energy just doesn't work. "Same thing with trucks," says Schmitt. "You could take your baseplate and bang out the kingpin and then recycle the baseplate with your aluminum cans. But you can't do it with the hangar because the axle is cast in. So the technology of progressing a skateboard truck has actually made it unrecyclable.
"You could put the hangar in a furnace and melt the aluminum off the steel axle, but its not worth the logistics and energy cost if you were to collect trucks from shops and melt them all down," Schmitt explains. "UPS would be the only people making money. It's that hard reality that trying to be ecologically responsible only goes so far, then it doesn't work anymore."
Schmitt also uses wood waste that isn't top quality from his factory for making mold blocks or for a program he started at the Visalia YMCA skate camp where the kids learn how to make skateboards by hand, just as Schmitt did when he was younger. Instead of full-size decks, the campers make miniature trophy skateboards.
"Manufacturing as a whole now does things on an environmentally friendly basis. Unlike in the past where it wasn't even a concern," says Schmitt. And maybe that is all the comfort we are going to get for now—knowing that this is the case and that the skateboard manufacturers like these are making efforts worth applauding.