It’s time to tear that old deck down and build a new one. Or maybe you need to do some deck repair, and you’re replacing some old boards.
Either way, you’re going to have a lot of old material to get rid of. How to dispose of old deck wood? What options are safe and responsible? Who’ll come and take it, and how much will it cost you?
In this article, we’ll go over all the options you have for disposing of old decking material and provide you with the pros and cons of each, so you can get the old wood out of the way and begin building a new deck.
- Type of Wood Used for Decks
- Is Pressure Treated Wood Recyclable?
- How to Dispose of Old Deck Wood
- Proper disposal of alternate wood types
- How NOT to Dispose of Old Deck Boards
Type of Wood Used for Decks
What type of decking material you’re trying to dispose of goes a long way toward determining the best way to dispose of it.
The most common type of decking material is treated lumber, which makes up the vast majority of decks. This type of wood is treated with chemicals that make it resistant to rot and insect damage.
Cedar and redwood are also popular deck materials due to their natural insect and weather-resistant properties. These natural materials tend to be significantly more expensive than pressure treated lumber.
PVC and composite decking are popular with high-end decks. PVC decking is made from a synthetic resin called polyvinyl chloride. Composite decking is made from recycled plastic and wood fibers, which is fused together using an adhesive.
Due to the different properties of each of these products, your options for disposal will be different based on the material. For example, natural decking like cedar can be more easily disposed of than say treated wood, which needs to be disposed of because of the dangerous chemicals used to treat the wood.
Is Pressure Treated Wood Recyclable?
The short answer is no. Due to the harmful chemicals present in the wood, pressure-treated wood cannot easily be reclaimed for reuse.
So, what exactly is in pressure treated wood that makes it potentially dangerous? This varies depending on how old the deck is.
If the deck was built before 2004, then the lumber is most likely treated with chromated copper arsenate, which gives it its weather-resistant qualities. This type of treated lumber was discontinued in 2004 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for three good reasons: chromium, copper, and arsenic.
All three pose significant health hazards with the poison arsenic being the most dangerous.
These chemicals were replaced by preservatives and pesticides copper quat and copper azole, which are significantly less hazardous.
Because of these hazards, you’ll have a difficult time finding a recycling company that will take treated lumber that was manufactured before 2004. Planing treated lumber as one might do to reclaim old lumber would be extremely hazardous as it would release its harmful chemicals into the air. Chipping or pulverizing this wood for other uses is also out of the question for the same reason.
Most municipalities will accept treated lumber at the local landfill, with many requiring that treated lumber be taken to the hazardous materials section of the landfill. This is important as treated lumber needs to be disposed of in a lined landfill that prevents the chemicals from leaching into the soil and groundwater.
Although commercial recyclers will not take treated lumber, recycling treated lumber by reusing it in another project can be accomplished with a few precautions for safety. We’ll cover these options in the next section.
How to Dispose of Old Deck Wood
Safety first is the motto for this process. Certain hazards are inherent in the disposal of any old wood construction, including but not limited to splintered wood, nails, screws, and other pointy fasteners.
Make sure to properly protect yourself when handling these materials. You don’t want to test the effectiveness of that tetanus shot you got 20 years ago.
It’s also important to consider the safety of others. Throwing a few old boards with rusty nails jutting out of them in garbage bags and leaving them by the curb isn’t very responsible considering the sanitation workers who’ll unwittingly be handling those bags the next morning.
Given that guidelines for the proper disposal of treated lumber will vary from municipality to municipality, make sure to check local guidelines for disposal guidelines.
You have a host of good options when considering how to dispose of those old boards, and some don’t even involve disposing of them:
1. Sell it
Imagine if you could get rid of all that unwanted wood, and get paid for it! Deck materials were designed to last a long, long time, upwards of 40 years or more. With that in mind, chances are at least some of the material you’re getting rid of still has some life in it.
The decking material is also expensive, meaning someone might be willing to pay a fraction of the cost of new boards to get your old deck boards. Consider attempting to sell your old wood online using a classifieds advertisement website.
2. Give it away
Ever heard the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” How many of us can say we’ve never picked up useful items that someone else has stacked at the curb for trash pick up?
Depending on the condition of your unwanted wood, consider stacking the boards on the curb with a “Free Wood” sign and your problems of what to do with that old wood just might be over.
Don’t live in a high traffic area? Considering advertising your free lumber on a classifieds website. You’d be surprised how many people can turn your trash into their treasure.
3. Trash Pick-up
Many municipalities are willing to pick up bulky items and construction materials on certain days for free or for a nominal fee. Contact your local waste management service or look them up online to figure out if old wood is something they will take.
4. Reuse It
This is an excellent option if the boards are still usable. Treated wood isn’t cheap and other types of decking, including PVC, composite, redwood and cedar, are some of the most expensive raw building materials you can buy.
Considering some of these materials are rated to last 40 years and beyond, your old boards may still have some life left in them. Consider using this waste to build something new: a workbench, flower boxes (non-edible if using treated wood) for your wife, benches, picture frames, or any other number of projects.
4. Trash removal services
This is the easiest option, but also the most expensive. There are plenty of services that will be happy to haul your junk away for a fee. These services usually charge by the pound. Most will give an estimate, so call around to see who is willing to haul away your old wood for the best price.
Be prepared to pay though. A large pile of lumber could cost you a few hundred dollars have hauled off.
5. Local landfill
Most landfills will take old wood. If you have a pickup truck or a friend with a pick-up truck, consider loading it up with your unwanted wood and hauling it to the landfill.
Landfills typically charge you by the pound by weighing your vehicle on the way in and again on the way out. Charges are typically very low. Depending on how much waste you have, this can be the most difficult of your options as it requires you to both load and unload the old wood.
Proper disposal of alternate wood types
Okay, so treated lumber can’t be recycled. But, what about composite decking. It’s made from recyclable material, so it must be recyclable, right? Wrong.
The bonding agents that hold the recycled plastic and wood fibers that comprise a composite deck board together prevent this material from being recyclable. And even though composite decking is built to last a long time, it is still susceptible to damage if it is not properly installed and cared for.
If you do need to dispose of composite deck boards, you’ll need to check with your local landfill to see if they will accept the material.
PVC decking, because it is made entirely from plastic and requires no paint, stain or finish, is perhaps the only decking material that is truly recyclable in the sense that PVC decking is accepted at recycling facilities and can be broken down and turned into a completely different item.
How NOT to Dispose of Old Deck Boards
It’s amazing how quickly we can be to burn unwanted items, especially if it’s wood. While this may be an option for some yard waste and even some scrap lumber, under no circumstances should you ever burn treated lumber.
As we’ve already discussed, treated lumber is infused with dangerous chemicals. Burning treated lumber sends all those chemicals into the air. Even worse, the leftover ashes can contain very high levels of arsenic.
For these reasons, burning treated lumber is illegal in all 50 states. Put the matches and lighter fluid away and use one of the safer solutions listed above.
I know composting as opposed to filling up your local landfill with scrap wood might seem like the responsible thing to do. Don’t. Using compost loaded with harmful chemicals to fertilize gardens and crops is a bad idea for obvious reasons.
Those toxic chemicals will end up in your plants and, eventually, onto your family’s dining room table. Even using compost on ornamental plants is a bad idea as it causes these chemicals to leach into the soil and eventually into the groundwater.
Save the composting for your grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and tree leaves. You can get even through sawdust from non-treated wood in there if you want. Just leave the treated stuff out.
3. Cutting up
Breaking wood down to size to make disposal easier might seem like a good idea. It isn’t. Do we see a trend here yet? Any kind of breaking down of treated lumber, whether it is burning, composting or cutting up, creates an opportunity for harmful chemicals to be released into the environment.
Limit your cutting to reuse projects like building a bench or a flower box.
Whether doing a complete rebuild of a deck or replacing a few old boards, it’s important to safely and responsibly dispose of that old lumber. It may seem harmless enough to toss a few treated boards into the garbage can or your backyard fire pit.
But by doing so, you might be causing harm to the environment and yourself. You also might be breaking the law without even knowing it. By following this guide, you can dispose of your old deck wood in an efficient way that is safe, environmentally responsible, and legal.