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Civic Impact

An innovative way to salvage the city's infested ash trees

Since it was first discovered in 2002 that the emerald ash borer (EAB) had made its way to Ontario, policy-makers and researchers have been racing to control the spread of this seemingly uncontrollable pest.  

The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect species that can attack and kill any type of native ash tree, is incredibly difficult to detect early and can spread through the movement of logs, trees, branches, and firewood.

In many ways, the fight against the emerald ash borer has already been lost. The City Of Toronto estimates that the majority of the city's 860,000 ash trees will be infected by EAB by 2015.  

But while it's too late to stop the decimation of the ash trees, it's not too late, according to environmental business network Partners in Project Green (PPG), to figure out a new way of disposing of them.  

In a recent pilot project demonstration in Etobicoke, Partners in Project Green showed the business community how to turn the infected ash trees into usable lumber.

"The big issue with these infected trees, besides the fact that we’re losing them, is that they’re ending up in landfills," says Malaz Sebai, waste management project manager with Partners in Project Green. "Disposing of trees and transporting them to landfill is costly, and it’s also not extracting any value from the trees.

"The trees are most valuable as trees, but if they’re infected, the best possible way to maximize this resource is to turn those trees into usable lumber."

But while using infected trees for lumber rather than turning them to mulch makes much more intuitive sense, the problem, as Sebai explains, is one of cost and logistics.

"When we started talking about this issue with our members and with municipalities we realized that the big barriers to re-purposing were storage and transportation. It’s just very very expensive."

One solution, says Sebai, is simply to stop transporting the trees.

The Partners in Project Green pilot program did just that. Instead of transporting the tree to a mill site, they brought the miller to the trees.

The ash lumber pilot project brought together a company with trees to remove, property manager Bentall Kennedy, and a company known for on-site milling, landscaping firm Sawmill  Sawmill Sid Lands & Housing. The goal, to showcase how infected trees can be converted to usable lumber with onsite processing and milling.

The pilot project, says Sebai, has already generated a lot of excitement among organization, both the private and the public sector, who will be needing to remove thousands of trees from their properties.

In the coming month Partners in Project Green will be publishing a report on the project documenting the financial and environmental savings of bringing companies together for on-site ash tree processing.

Writer: Kat Sunkal
Source: Malaz Sebai, Project Manager Waste Management, Partners in Project Green
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