Life from Waste

We constantly hear about new ways to reuse and recycle waste, but not so often does our waste get the opportunity to play a direct role in creating new life. Such is the case, however, with the products about to be shipped from Fiberwood, a new company in Sacramento, California, that converts cardboard into mulch.

Material for hydroseeding often uses
mulch manufactured from trash.

When we visited Fiberwood last week to talk with their CEO, Stuart Douglass, it was clear they were about to go into full scale production.

Mountains of shredded cardboard stood to one side of the cavernous space, with a completed line of equipment already in place on the other side.

This first line, explained Douglass, will take cardboard feedstock and grind it down to nearly powder, and at a rate of up to 100 tons per day, output this mulch into 50 pound bags ready for shipment.

The logic of this is clear – California is the entry point for billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods each month, and virtually all of them arrive in cardboard containers. This surplus cardboard can go into landfills, or it can be recycled. The sheer volume of this incoming cardboard means only mulch for hydroseeding provides demand at a scale that can keep up with this supply.

The process of “hydroseeding” is where mulch and water are mixed at a ratio of 75 pounds of mulch for every 100 gallons of water, and this slurry is sprayed onto land with seeds added to the mix. The type of seeds added depends on the use, but only a small fraction of total hydroseed use is for conventional landscaping. The product is also used for dust and erosion control at construction sites, as well as to quickly restore ground cover in areas where there have been forest fires. At about one ton of hydroseed per acre, enormous volumes of this product are required.

Another huge demand for hydromulch, without the seeds but with a bonding agent added, is to spray a thin layer over landfills each day, covering the raw waste. This practice, recently passed into law, is required in order to reduce smells from landfills. It is known as “alternate daily cover,” and given only a 1/4″ thick layer is required, it is much more cost effective for landfill operators who would otherwise be required to add 6″ of soil each day to the surface of their landfills.

Douglass is no stranger to turning waste products into useful materials. In 1992 he built his first plant to turn newspaper fiber into loose fill insulation, an operation he later sold to Louisiana Pacific. In 2003 Douglass applied for a new patent that will enable the company to make an all natural blanket insulation using cardboard and other cellulosic waste. Douglass plans to eventually add a manufacturing line at his current facility to produce this product. Because this product is far more fire resistant and mold resistant compared with fiberglass, there is already a great deal of interest in the product.

So the next time you see native plants rapidly repairing a landscape scarred by fire, know that the material used to efficiently reseed the area may well have come from the cardboard boxes that once protected your imported consumer product. It gives a whole new meaning to composting.

One Response to “Life from Waste”
  1. [...] a lot lately about humanure (a term which, I believe, is self-explanatory), but I gotta say, this concept is a little less… icky. Fiberwood, based out of Sacramento, CA (yay California!!!!), is a [...]

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