SOUTH JORDAN Piles of sawdust at the Trans-Jordan landfill are heaped up like mounds of gold as far as the eye can see.
In some areas of the country where the cost of sawdust is skyrocketing and the material is quickly disappearing those piles would bring a hefty profit. But here, they're waiting to be buried like the rest of the trash.
And it's not cheap.
"It costs me more to bury it than I'm getting right now," Trans-Jordan general manager Dwayne Woolley said. "Before, it was enough coming in that we could process it and get away with it. But now we have so much coming in that we can't do anything with it."
Woolley sells some of the sawdust to local folks, and he mixes some into a composting mixture that's also for sale, but he can't keep up with the 20 tons of sawdust the landfill receives every month. Woolley's been piling up excess mounds of the fine mixture for a couple of years now, but the landfill is running out of room, and the sawdust has to go somewhere. So it goes into the ground.
Elsewhere in the country, the price of sawdust is double what it was last year. According to Associated Press reports, dairy farmers and pellet manufacturers are paying up to $50 a ton for sawdust because new construction is lagging and energy costs are soaring.
Farmers in Vermont pay up to $1,800 for a truckload of sawdust, if they can find it. Some drive hundreds of miles to find the stuff to line stable floors or use as fuel. Here, most cabinetmakers give it away for free.
"It is and it always has been a pain in the neck," said Ross Staheli, a shop foreman for the Huetter Mill and Cabinet company in Salt Lake City. "If the sawdust isn't picked up it backs up in the hopper, and it shuts us down. Then I have to send the guys home. We have to have a source for that material to be taken out so we can keep running."
Having a reliable person which, in most cases in Salt Lake County, turns out to be a farmer or rancher who collects the sawdust for composting to take the substance away is worth giving it away for free, Staheli said.
Most local woodworking shops that produce substantial amounts of sawdust have made similar arrangements with farmers. But cabinetmaking giants like KraftMaid in West Jordan don't have the same option. KraftMaid, whose executives didn't return calls for this report, brings the Trans-Jordan landfill most of the sawdust it receives, and it's a big reason the landfill has maxed out its capacity for the tiny wood shavings in a short amount of time.
There are only so many farmers to go around, and there are plenty of smaller woodworkers in Salt Lake County that fill the need for sawdust.
"There's an unusual amount of cabinet companies here I'd have to guess there's 150 or more from Logan to Provo," said Cottonwood Mill and Cabinet owner David Whittenburg. "Because of that, we're generating a lot of dust, and you have to figure out how to dispose of it."
Woolley says the landfill is planning to raise the cost of dumping sawdust there from $5 a ton to $11, at least, to cover the cost to bury the material. Because the Trans-Jordan landfill is a quasi-governmental agency that serves all of the cities in the southern part of Salt Lake County, Woolley says it wouldn't be right for him to sell the stuff as a profit-making venture.
"We're a government agency, and we're not in the business of making money off of somebody else," Woolley said.
Still, some like West Jordan public works director Tim Peters, who sits on the Trans-Jordan board would like to see the sawdust find another fate instead of being buried."But putting it in the landfill, it may not be a terrible thing because it will generate methane, so I guess in the long run, it would be great," Peters said. "But heavens, if someone could find a use to recycle it, I'd be all for it."