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Dispose of Old Wood and Lumber

A fact of life, in Chicago and elsewhere, is the need for construction and renovation. Maybe you’re remodeling a single room, tearing out an old hardwood floor, or ripping down a shed. Perhaps an entire building is being put up or torn down. No matter the project, large or small, you’re likely to have some debris.

With lumber prices being what they are, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to waste the old wood and lumber you have. Maybe you can’t use it, but someone else might be able to.

The question is, how can you handle it? Luckily, you have few options for disposing of old wood and lumber in the Chicago area.

Categorize Your Debris

You’ll first want to categorize what kind of wood you have to get rid of. You might want to know the answer to a few specific questions before looking for options for disposing of them.

Categorize Your Debris

For example:

  • Is it debris or natural wood? Plenty of us have trees on our property, but trees live and die and can break in storms. Large broken branches and fallen trees are still forms of wood that need to be handled appropriately, though many ways to do so are the same.
  • Is the wood in good, usable condition? There’s a world of difference between largely-intact hardwood flooring, planks, and boards that are long (but not long enough for your needs) and large but otherwise unusable off-cuts or piles of inch-long bits and shattered chunks of plywood. The more usable the wood is, the more likely you’ll be able to have it taken off your hands quickly and easily. Assorted debris can be hauled off and recycled, and so can wood, but the locations you can take it and the companies that accept it will vary. Is the debris mixed, or is the wood separate? More on this later.
  • What kind of wood is it? While not terribly meaningful to pure recycling, if you’re trying to sell, give away, or reuse old wood, knowing what kind of wood it is can be helpful. Some people may search for reclaimable hardwood, for example, while others only want softer woods.
  • Is the wood treated, painted, or stained? The more “contamination” a piece of wood has, the more it might need special handling or recycling. Painted wood, if it’s old enough, might also be a risk of lead paint, though ideally, you’ll have known about and remediated that before you reached the demolition phase. Wood stains and treatments can also change the recyclability and usage of certain kinds of wood.

Seriously, we can’t stress that last point enough:

Treated wood can be very hazardous.

In fact, before 2006, treated wood was “treated” with CCA, Chromated Copper Arsenate, an arsenic-derived chemical. This chemical is known to cause various health issues, and while it’s relatively fine to handle, trying to cut through it, sand it, or otherwise process it can be hazardous. That’s why many companies won’t take older treated lumber.

Finally, there’s one other question you’ll need to answer that isn’t entirely related to the debris; are you a contractor/company or an individual homeowner? Chicago’s municipal code has specific requirements about recycling at least 50% of the waste generated by construction and demolition projects. Contractors and companies must adhere to the ordinance, but some projects are exempt. If you intend to comply with the regulation (which you should), you’ll need to file an affidavit and record of debris recycling, also found at that link.

Never Fly Dump

While it can be tempting to skip the hassle and dump your old wood in the woods somewhere – after all, wood is biodegradable, right – this is illegal and carries steep penalties.

Problems With Fly Dumping

Fly dumping is a huge problem in Chicago and can result in fines, jail time, community service, impounded vehicles, and more.

Just don’t do it! There are many better ways to handle old lumber.

Option 1: Dispose of Old Wood Through Personal Connections

The most time-consuming but potentially most effective way to handle old wood is to offer it for free or for a cheap fee to sell it personally.

  • Facebook’s marketplace is always an option for selling pretty much anything.
  • Craigslist has For Sale and Free sections where you can list wood and lumber.
  • The Chicago subreddit has people who may be willing to take lumber off your hands.

Depending on where you live and the kind of wood it is, you may be able to cut it small and use it as fuel for a burn pile or fire pit, as long as there are no burn ordinances preventing you from doing it so. Make sure you don’t burn anything painted or treated with chemicals that can create hazardous smoke. You don’t want to cause yourself or your neighbor health issues by disposing of some old wood!

Personal Connections

Plenty of people like using old and reclaimed wood for their art projects; some even turn old wood into fuel. You’d be surprised at how much interest you can get.

Of course, this can be very hit or miss. Anyone who has ever tried to give something away online knows that you’ll probably end up with plenty of people expressing interest, only to never pick up the items in question. Even trying to sell the wood is likely to have plenty of issues. You’ll need to be willing to invest the time (as well as have the space to store the wood.)

In the meantime, you can’t just leave your wood in a pile in your yard; that can be a sanitation violation and can get the city on your case. It would help if you had proper bins or other forms of storage to hold the wood while you dispose of it. It can be quite a hassle!

Option 2: Dispose of Old Wood Through Waste Management

One option many people overlook is a waste management company. Depending on the kind of wood, and the company that handles your waste management, you may be able to contact them for a pickup. Often, they’ll be more than willing to take the wood off your hands and recycle it appropriately; it’s better than many of the alternatives, after all.

Photo of Waste Management

Not all waste management companies will do this, and they may not be particularly convenient for you, but it’s usually a free or very cheap option.

One thing to note is that you should be very careful about simply adding your wood to your trash bins. If you load them up too much (or keep piles around ready to discard), Streets and Sanitation can write you a ticket. They usually do this to penalize house flippers who try to circumvent the recycling ordinances, but they aren’t exactly going to dig deep for context when they see an overloaded bin full of wood.

Option 3: Donate Wood to Local Organizations

Another option is to find local charities and organizations that may want to accept wood for reuse. Some art studios, some recycling centers, and some other organizations can take wood for use in projects, though it always depends on what kind of wood it is. You’ll see a pattern in people and companies rejecting treated lumber.

Donate Wood to Local Organizations

One of the most common recommendations here is Rebuilding Exchange. Rebuilding Exchange is a community organization that provides job training and educational workshops, and they’re always looking for material donations to use in those classes and events. You can find their material donations form here.

The only downside to Rebuilding Exchange is that there are only certain kinds of wood that they will accept. They tend to prefer materials usable as construction materials, so anything too small, misshapen, broken, pre-treated, reclaimed, or potentially hazardous is likely to be rejected.

Option 4: Recycle Old Wood with Chicago-Area Recycling Centers

There are quite a few recycling companies and centers throughout the Chicago area. Many of them will accept construction debris and other kinds of wood, and they can generally handle anything from small chunks to longboards, treated and untreated, and even mixed waste.

The biggest downside to this option is having to haul the wood there yourself (in many cases) and paying a fee to dispose of it.

The costs may not be much, but they will vary from center to center. You’ll want to call around and get quotes from various recycling centers, though many of these centers won’t be able to give you an accurate quote over the phone.

Recycling Old Wood

How can you find these centers? There are a few options. You can search Google and sites like YP for recycling companies and check to see if they recycle wood. For example, Greenway Recycling is one such option.

The City also maintains a list of recycling centers that accept construction debris as a way to facilitate compliance with their recycling ordinance. You can see the list here. Companies it lists include:

  • Murco Recycling Enterprises in La Grange Park, IL: (708) 352-4111
  • CID RDF in Calumet City, IL: (773) 646-7619
  • Homewood Disposal in Homewood, IL: (708) 798-1004
  • WM Waste Management in Chicago, IL: (855) 217-1089
  • Disposal Management in Schaumburg, IL: (847) 884-7676
  • JKS Ventures in Melrose Park, IL: (708) 338-3534
  • Ravenswood Disposal in Chicago, IL: (773) 638-7676
  • Waveland Recycling in Chicago, IL: (847) 233-0791
  • Kucera Disposal in Cicero, IL: (708) 652-0025
  • Shred-All in Chicago, IL: (773) 523-5404
  • Recycling Systems in Chicago, IL: (773) 579-1999
  • Heartland Recycling in Forest View, IL: (708) 458-9800
  • Brackenbox in Markham, IL: (773) 298-9161

You’ll note that many entries on the list may have multiple names and that many only accept certain kinds of debris, so the list isn’t a comprehensive or terribly useful list. But it’s better than having nothing to go on.

Option 5: Out-of-Area Wood Recycling

Another option you might be able to pursue, depending on the kind of wood you’re trying to get rid of, is selling it to an agency that operates on a state or national level.

For example, Bingham Wood is a lumber company operating out of New Hampshire but with a presence across most of the country. They buy reclaimed wood, process it, and resell it in their lumber yards. Of course, they only accept certain kinds of wood, so your general construction debris or broken tree limbs aren’t going to be appropriate for their needs. Still, this kind of agency is one of many options you can pursue if you can’t think of another way to get rid of your wood.

Out of Area Wood Recycling

Other companies are also offering similar services, though they’re less than ideal for most cases where you have wood to discard.

Option 6: Call Junk Relief

Here at Junk Relief, we’re experts in disposing of anything. Not “almost” anything; we’ve seen and done it all. We’ll handle construction debris and wood; we’ll take anything from a minor project to the most extensive demolition. And yes, we’ll even handle your treated, stained, or otherwise potentially hazardous wood; all we ask is that you let us know ahead of time so we can take the proper precautions.

When you call us, text us, or reach out online, we’ll ask you about the junk you need to eliminate.

How much of it do you have? What kinds of debris is it? Once we know what type of project we’re looking at, we’ll give you a quote. We do our best to keep you in the loop, so there are no hidden fees and no surprises. We’re also usually available immediately, within hours or days, depending on your needs.

Wood Removal - Junk Relief

What happens when we haul away your junk? Well, for one thing, you don’t need to worry about it anymore. Out of your hands, out of your mind, right? Don’t worry, though; we handle it appropriately. Our processing center reuses and donates anything that we can salvage, and our partners at Lakeshore Recycling can take the rest. Your wood debris, old lumber, logs, or whatever else can be appropriately processed, recycled, or safely discarded for minimum environmental impact.

Do you want to get rid of your lumber or schedule wood disposal for when you finish your project? All you need to do is click here for our contact options. We are standing by to help anywhere in the Chicago area. Whether you need to schedule ahead or you want same-day service, we’re at the ready.

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Joe Weidman

Joe is a Chicago native, born and raised in Elmhurst. He founded Junk Relief more than 10 years ago and has worked with more than 20,000 homeowners and businesses throughout Chicagoland. His passion for starting a business in junk removal stemmed from seeing the need to do things differently. He prides himself on his company's model to provide unexpectedly professional service.

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