Household Perceptions and Practices of Recycling Tree Debris from Residential Properties
Schmitt-Harsh, Mikaela L.
Wiseman, P. Eric
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Thousands of trees are lost in urbanizing areas of Virginia each year to land development, storms, and pests. As a result, large amounts of tree debris, much of which could be suitable for high-value wood products, are flowing from Virginia’s urban forests annually. Finding cost-effective, sustainable strategies for recycling this debris, particularly into durable wood products that keep carbon stored, could benefit the local economy and the local environment throughout the state. To inform outreach and technical assistance efforts of multiple groups across the state, a survey study was conducted in the City of Harrisonburg to determine household perceptions and practices of tree debris recycling. A random sample of owner-occupied, single-family dwellings was contacted using a mixed-mode survey approach to determine why and how trees were removed from the properties in the past and how the debris was disposed of or recycled. Survey responses were received from 189 households, with survey responses pointing toward a strong community sentiment for trees and their care. Nearly all respondents agreed that wood from street trees, park trees, and other neighborhood trees should be recycled into products rather than disposed of in a landfill; however, the majority of households do not currently recycle woody debris from trees removed on these properties. The three most important factors that would facilitate future participation in tree recycling include timely removal of the wood, free curbside pick-up of the wood, and knowledge of who to contact to handle the wood. Overall, these results point to household interest and willingness to participate in wood recycling programs given appropriate information to guide their decisions and local services to facilitate transfer of wood to the municipality or commercial woodworkers. This suggests a need for greater availability of neighborhood or municipal wood recycling programs, ideally coupled with greater education and outreach about the economic and environmental benefits of recovering and utilizing wood from felled trees.