Eco fee fairest way to deal with disposal of rail road ties

Columnist Jim Hilton asks if an eco fee help the recycling or disposal of railroad ties?

Would an eco fee help the recycling or disposal of railroad ties?

The true production costs of hazardous products must include environmentally sound disposal fees. The recycling of any hazardous product is helped along with some form of environmental tax or eco fee. The lead acid battery stewardship plan helps get used batteries back to a recycling plant. In 2012 all electric lamps, ballasts and fixtures were to be included in the B.C. recycling regulation.  I think most would agree that the refunds for beverage containers and eco fees on electronic devices also helps to keep these items off the roads and land fills and into the hands of industries that make a living off their return.

A quick review of Wikipedia indicates the wood railroad ties are going to be a problem for some time. With more than 3,000 ties per mile of railroad and 90 per cent being wood, no wonder we have a recycling problem. While hardwood (oak etc.) are the best they are harder to come by so the majority are from Fir with a minority from specialty wood which does not need treatment.  Concrete ties are a better choice because they are stronger, last longer, are cheaper and carry more weight  but are nosier and take more work to set in the rail bed.  Some other products are being tried like recycled plastic and rubber composites but are expensive (some over $100 each) and dependant on the amount of recycled material available. Perhaps a combination of a concrete tie with a composite mat to help with noise and facilitating the placement of the tie could be the choice of the future.

For those who may be interested in using ties for landscaping they can be purchased from some building supply stores, in one case for $14 apiece.  You are advised not to use them around edible plants because of treatments like  creosote, pentachlorophenol or chromated copper arsenate. Some buyers also suggest you sort through them prior to purchase if possible since a percentage are not of the best quality. Be prepared to handle a heavy product and deal with potential hazards when sawing them. This is not different from dealing from any treated wood product.

If a deposit or handling tax was associated with the ties there would be some incentive for a business to sort through the ties and have some type of testing device which  could  rate the ties for condition and have a price appropriate for the better grade of ties.

Eventually the ties fall apart and are usually burned but maybe they could be ground and mixed with recycled plastic to make more ties or other landscaping products. It is this kind of venture that might benefit from a tax credit or eco fee.

With the ever increasing variety of products and their packaging it is imperative to include all of the costs associated with their production, marketing and eventual disposal. An eco fee is probably the fairest way of dealing with these added costs.


Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.



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