How to Dispose of Pressure Treated Wood

If you found this article, chances are you have some pressure-treated wood you want to get rid of. Even if the EPA put a stop to the use of this type of wood in 2003 in most residential construction, a lot of it is still out there. CCA treated wood has been a thing since the 1930s. It can last for over 60 years, even in harsh environments.

Due to the health risks involved, it is surely a smart thing to get rid of pressure-treated wood if you can. Problem is, there aren’t many sources of information on how to do it correctly out there, and some of them are even controversial; so it can be difficult to find the right approach. In this short article, I will try to give you some tips to make your life easier.

First, here’s a quick answer. If you are located in the US, there are some indications in the DEEP site (I’ll leave a link to it at the end of the article). In short, homeowners with small amounts should take it to the local dump and place it in the appropriate location. On the other hand, business owners who need to dispose of large quantities of treated wood for work reasons should contract with a DEEP authorized landfill or take it to an authorized burner facility. Same thing with wood residuals like sawdust.

We will now define what pressure-treated wood is and how to distinguish it from non-treated wood. Then we’ll go more into the details of how to safely dispose of pressure-treated wood and answer some common questions you might have.

What is Pressure Treated Wood?

How to Dispose of Pressure Treated Wood

As you might have guessed, we are talking about wood that has been put under pressure to be treated. To obtain this, a pressurized space where CCA is introduced is utilized. CCA is Chromated Copper Arsenate in short, and it consists of a mixture of chromium, copper, and arsenic, in different percentages. The wood comes out impregnated with it, and it protects it against the attack of insects and microbes, preventing it from rotting. This treatment makes the wood last for at least half a century.

Many types of wood are suitable for CCA treatment. The most common one is southern yellow pine. In general, all kinds of softwood lumber can be used for this purpose, since they are easily penetrated with the needed chemicals to preserve them. There are different levels of treatment that can be reached, depending on the amount of chemical preservatives which have been put into the wood. Some pressure-treated wood is suited for above-ground use only, while other treated lumber can be also placed into the ground. Usually, there’s a label or stamp that says what’s the correct use for that treated lumber. Obviously, I’m talking about recently manufactured treated wood. You might have no luck finding that on old boards.

How to Tell if Wood is Treated?

The first thing to establish is whether the wood you are looking at is treated or not. As I said in the previous paragraph, pressure-treated wood which is produced today comes with a label or stamp of some sort that tells you the level of chemical compound contained in it. The higher the numbers, the higher the quantity of chemicals in it and thus the wood resistance to rotting.

Chance is that your wood is very old, and there is no stamp on it. Don’t worry, though. There are some other things you can check or do.

  • First, you should ask yourself if you are dealing with softwood or hardwood lumber. Generally speaking, only softwood lumber is pressure treated since it’s required to make it last longer. So if you have hardwood lumber, chances are it’s not pressure treated;
  • Another thing you can do is checking the color. CCA treated wood comes in shades of green. If it’s very old lumber, the color probably faded away. At this point, you could saw a portion of it and check inside. If you go down this way, wear goggles and a mask to protect yourself from the toxic dust!
  • A lot of people suggest you smell the wood to identify if it’s treated or not. Pressure-treated wood comes with a chemical smell versus a more natural smell of untreated wood. I strongly recommend not to smell wood that might be pressure treated. That’s a good way to intoxicate yourself.
  • Finally, you could get a kit to see if there’s any chemical in it. For example, you can get this test to check the arsenic levels in your lumber.

How to Safely Dispose of Pressure Treated Wood

As I told you in the beginning of the article, there are a couple of things you can do to dispose of treated wood in safety. It really goes down to how much wood you need to take care of. If we are talking of small quantities, you will probably be fine taking it to the local dump. If we are talking of large quantities (for example you took down a large fence around your property and you have a lot of boards in your hands) you should definitely ask your local authorities to see if there’s a licensed landfill or burner facility that can take charge of it. These are the only places where they can limit the release of toxic agents into the environment.

It should be obvious at this point, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: you shouldn’t definitely burn pressure-treated wood. Besides the fact that it’s illegal in all 50 states, you will risk harming yourself with all the toxic chemicals (for example arsenic) that are going to be released in the fire, and you will pollute the environment. Moreover, treated wood tends to absorb water easily, so you would have a hard time burning it anyways.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can I Recycle Treated Wood?

Pressure-treated wood shouldn’t be recycled. All the toxic chemicals contained in it would be transferred to the munch resulting from the recycling process, thus polluting the soil.

Is Pressure Treated Wood Considered Hazardous Waste?

It’s difficult to give a unique answer to this question. A few years ago, pressure-treated wood wasn’t considered hazardous waste. That means pressure-treated wood was not a threat to public health and the environment, according to the law. Recently, as of December 2020, California went for a change in wood waste regulations: TWW (treated wood waste) is now considered hazardous waste.

In conclusion, you should check with your local authorities since it’s a matter that has been changing recently.

Final Thoughts

How to Dispose of Pressure Treated Wood
“Old lumber” by Valerie Everett

As you can see, at the moment there’s not a unique and well-established method to dispose of pressure-treated wood safely. A lot is being left to the discretion of the private citizen. If you want, you can check what the EPA has to tell you about it at this link. I gave you a few guidelines also, and I hope that a couple of things will stick to you after reading this article:

  •  If you are in doubt, check your town ordinances. In my experience, it is better to be safe than sorry: you definitely wanna avoid getting fined!
  • Besides the economic aspect, I think it’s important to hold your health in the highest regard. You have to remember that you are dealing with toxic waste, so you must behave accordingly. As suggested by the EPA, you should always wear gloves when handling pressure-treated wood. If you need to saw it, wear goggles and a dust mask.

That’s it for this article, I hope you learned something useful. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or more information about this topic!