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Urban Wood Utilization in Connecticut: Uses of Wood Particles

The economic disposal of wood from trees can be a problem for municipalities. In addition to considering the potential to use this wood as a solid-sawn material,it is helpful to consider the potential use of this wood in particle form. Such uses, among others, could include using the wood as

Energy: Woody biomass refers to the woody parts of trees and other plants, including limbs, tops, needles, and leaves. Biomass is an option for energy production by a variety of means and for a range of uses. Wood chips, shavings, pellets and sawdust are forms of woody biomass.

See Urban Wood for Energy

Travel auger carrying wood chips to burn at The Hotchkiss School Biomass Heating Facility
Woody biomass heating facilities burn wood chips in a boiler to produce steam. 

Combustion of wood chips is used to produce steam for heating at The Hotchkiss School Biomass Heating Facility
The wood chips being used at The Hotchkiss School Biomass Heating Facility come from sustainably managed forests.

Mulch: Mulch is any material such as straw, sawdust, leaves, plastic film, and loose soil that is spread on the surface of the soil to protect the soil and plant roots from the effects of raindrops, soil crusting, freezing, and evaporation.

Mulch can be made of either organic or inorganic materials. Organic mulches are derived from plant material such as leaves, sawdust, or shredded bark. The use of a layer of organic mulch 2- to 4-inches thick (5- to 10-cm) around trees is considered part of standard planting instructions.

Colored wood mulch used for landscaping
Wood chips can be used as mulch around plantings.

Sidewalk planter with black wood chip mulch in New Haven, CT
Adding mulch to the soil surface reduces evaporation, slows weed growth, improves soil quality, and adds aesthetic value.

Compost: Woody materials, such as wood chips, branches and twigs, can be allowed to decompose and then used as a fertilizer and soil amendment. These materials may take up to two years to break down, unless finely chipped or shredded. Wood particles improve the compost pile structure and allow air to move through it.

Connecticut's Department of Transportation uses wood chips from state highway maintenance operations for the composting of deer carcasses. The process involves burying the deer in wood chips. Natural heat from decomposition keeps the biochemical reactions going, even in the winter. After four to six months, all that remains is compost.

Road kill compost windrows for management of  animal carcasses
Static pile composting of deer carcasses. An estimated 18,000 deer are killed each year on Connecticut roadways. This practice allows DOT to dispose of a large number of carcasses in a relatively small area with no odors and no environmental impact. Photo from New York State, courtesy of the Cornell Waste Management Institute.

Playground Material: Wood particles and similar wood-derived products are commonly used for playground surfacing. The ground under and around playground equipment should be surfaced with shock absorbing materials to reduce injuries.

Manufacturers and installers of playground protective surfacing must consider factors such as critical height for impact attenuation, minimum fill-depth, toxicity, and guidelines for firmness and stability. The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association provides 3rd party certification for engineered wood fibers that are rated as playground safety materials.

Playground with wood chip safety materian in East Rock Park, New haven, CT
Wood mulch and wood chips can be used as surfacing material for playground surfaces. Playground at East Rock Park, New Haven, CT.

Animal Bedding: Chips, shavings and excelsior, and sawdust can be used in animal bedding and litter products. Important considerations in animal bedding are comfort and absorbency. The tree species is also important, as some woods might be toxic for the animals.

Wood products are highly absorbent and also give up moisture more easily than any other bedding. It is recommended that wood particles to be used in animal bedding are kiln-dried to ensure cleanliness and absorption capability. Following use, sometimes this material has a secondary use as compost.

Resting horse on wood particle bedding, Washington, CT
Sawmills sell wood particles byproduct of their operation as horse bedding. The horse industry in Connecticut is a vital part of the state's economy with approximately 550 horse-related businesses and 43, 059 horses in the state.
Photo courtesy of
H.O.R.S.E. of Connecticut Inc.

Pulp for Paper: Pulp is a fibrous material produced in a complex manufacturing process that involve the chemical and/or mechanical treatment of various types of plant materials, mostly wood.

The presence of contaminants, such as commonly found in urban wood,is a significant issue for the pulp and paper industry. Contaminants can significantly affect product quality. For example dirt can have a negative effect on brightness, and grit and metal can cause excess wear on processing equipment. Plant species is also important in papermaking.

Pulper treatment in paper mill
Pulper treatment in paper mill.
Photo source

Composite Wood (Particleboard): Wood-based composite panels are materials manufactured from wood strands, flakes, particles, fibers or other lignocellulosic material and a synthetic resin or other binder. Standard particleboard plants use chippers, grinders and other machinery to obtain particles.

Depending on the manufacturing process and board configurations, specifications for the ideal particle size are different. Particles are classified by size using air streams or screens. Particleboard used for quality furniture uses much smaller core particles. Very small particles increase particle surface area and thus increase binder requirements.

Photography of particle board (composite wood) with veneer
Two different widths of particleboard with veneer. Photo source

Food Processing: Woods such as mesquite, alder, apple, cherry, pecan, and hickory are used as natural flavor enhancers in grill cooking either in homes or restaurants.

Cooking wood may be marketed in the form of sawdust, chips, chunks, and roundwood. The chips and chunks are primarily for the residential consumer, sawdust for the smoking and liquid smoke business and roundwood for the restaurant trade. Usually, chips are used in conjunction with charcoal, while chunks are used by themselves as a fuel source for smokers.

Backyard smokehouse in Connecticut
Wood of different sizes is used as a natural flavor enhancer in grill cooking and food processing. Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut.


Bonhotal, J., Harrison, E. Z., & Schartz, M. (n.d.). Composting Road Kill. Cornell Waste Management Institute, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University.

Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2010). Public Playground Safety Handbook - CPSC Publication 325

Faustman, C., & Blodget, A. (n.d.). Build Your Own Smokehouse. Department of Animal Science, University of Connecticut/ Connecticut State Department of Agriculture.

Herbert, S., et al. (n.d.). Bedding Options for Livestock and Equine. UMass Extension Cattle, Dairy, Livestock and Equine Program.

Kürsten, E. (2012). Lesser known options for the use of sawings and sawdust.

Nadeau, J., Shah, F. (2006). Horses in Connecticut: Size and Value of the Industry. University of Connecticut, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Thomas, M. G., & Schumann, D. R. (1993). Income Opportunities in Special Forest Products: Self-Help Suggestions for Rural Entrepreneurs. Agriculture Information Bulletin, USDA, 666.

Urban Wood Utilization - Introduction and Table of Contents

Content last updated September 2019