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Saving Wood from the Landfill, Without the Supply Issues

Oregon-based Viridian upcycles shipping waste to make stylish flooring, tabletops, veneers, and other products

Once destined for the landfill, this wood was taken from shipping materials and upcycled into Viridian's Jakarta Market Blend flooring.
Photo Credit: Viridian Reclaimed Wood

Over the years, the GreenSpec team has looked at a lot of reclaimed lumber. It’s usually taken from barns and other aging structures, checked for lead paint and chemicals, and then turned into flooring and other products.

It’s rustic and attractive, but actually ordering it is fraught with supply challenges, so when Joe Mitchoff, co-founder of Viridian Wood Products, stopped by the office to show his company’s products to Alex Wilson and me, my expectations were not particularly high. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the product and the story behind it.

The Process

Most of Viridian’s wood is not reclaimed from buildings. Instead, it comes from overseas shipping materials gathered from the Port of Portland, Oregon, and other area ports. Mitchoff and his business partner, Pierce Henley, discovered that the wooden pallets, crates, and other packing materials that came into the port everyday were sent to the landfill as a matter of course—up to thirty, 30-yard dumpsters per ship. “We found this tremendous waste at the Port of Portland,” Mitchoff said, and they began looking for ways to upcycle it.

At first, the recycling process was just a hobby, but it grew until the two had to set up a 40,000 square-foot warehouse next to the dock. They had to locate it there so the truckers would have easy access (otherwise, due to cost and time, they threatened to keep sending it to the landfill).

These shipping containers are filled with wood, steel cables, and strapping.
Photo Credit: Viridian Reclaimed Wood

The wood arrives at the facility commingled with steel cable, nylon strapping, and ship waste. “People have tried to mechanically sort it, but that doesn’t work,” said Mitchoff, so the sorting, grading, and de-nailing are done by hand. All that work pays off, though, as Mitchoff claims they recover, use, or recycle 99%+ of the material. For every thirty 30-yard dumpsters coming in, “we barely have one four-yard dumpster of waste going out.”

The wood reclaimed from this jumble is heat-treated to destroy insects, per international law, and further inspected by the Department of Homeland Security, which also sets traps for invasive species at Viridian’s warehouse (they haven’t caught any yet). The company does not use any chemically treated wood.

The Wood

Viridian’s wood usually arrives in 4" x 4" x 12' posts along with irregular pieces and includes European beech, oak (or “Fishtail oak” which has unique grain pattern), spruce and pine from Russia, and “Jakarta Market Blend,” which is a mix of Asian hardwoods sorted for consistent hardness. (Virdian also offers reclaimed Douglas fir from local warehouses and school bleachers.)

Also Read

The Many Faces of Reclaimed Wood

Beyond Green Flooring: What's in Flooring Adhesives?

Defining Recycled Content

All of this wood is kiln-dried and then either processed at a mill up the road from the warehouse or made into tabletops at a separate facility.


The Products

As mentioned, the main problem with most reclaimed wood is inconsistency. If a customer uses reclaimed wood on a project and decides at a later time to finish another room down the hall, that same wood may not be available, but Viridian gets a constant supply into the company’s warehouse. One of Viridian’s most popular woods is the Jakarta blend, a mix of woods that provides a “consistently inconsistent look,” according to Mitchoff. This combination should minimize any problems matching products in the future.

Viridian’s reclaimed wood is sold as flooring, paneling, and tabletops. “We do a lot of commercial work,” Mitchoff said, “with many of the tabletops going to restaurants.” The glues the company uses are radio-frequency-cured PVA glues, which are very safe. The finishes the company uses all meet California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards.

The wood, commingled with other shipping waste, is hand sorted and graded in Viridian's warehouse..
Photo Credit: Viridian Reclaimed Wood

Viridian is also making veneers from reclaimed wood. These can be adhered to any architect-specified core, though the company prefers PureBond substrates with no added urea-formaldehyde. Tabletop finishes are either UV-cured or zero-VOC, depending on the product, and have a “natural” look rather than a thick coat of polyurethane.

The Price and Availability

Viridian sells its products direct, primarily to architects and design firms instead of homeowners, with 50% of its customers in the Pacific Northwest and the remainder spread across the U.S. and Canada.

Jakarta blend currently sells for $6.95/ft2, Fishtail at $7.95/ft2, fir in the range of $5.50/ft2 to 7.50/ft2 (depending on face width and grain), and European beech at $5.95/ft2. Tabletops are “mid-30s to -40 per square foot” according to Mitchoff, depending on the wood and how difficult it is to mill.

Viridian also transforms bleacher seats, made from the highest grade of Douglas fir available, into tabletops, keeping the numbering and marks. The price of these bleacher products varies depending on availability, but is typically about $30/ft2. By comparison, table tops of Jakarta blend typically sell for $25-27/ft2.

Reclaiming perfectly good wood that would normally go to the landfill is a great use of resources, but according to Mitchoff, the company does not plan on branching out to other ports in the U.S. Viridian seems to have found a perfectly viable wood source that fills a unique niche in the reclaimed wood market.

Posted by Brent Ehrlich on July 25, 2012


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