This fact sheet addresses management alternatives for proper handling of waste railroad ties and utility poles. Waste railroad ties and utility poles are considered regulated solid waste under the Missouri Solid Waste Management Law. Three programs of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (department) administer and enforce requirements that may affect the management of these wastes. They are the Air Pollution Control Program, the Solid Waste Management Program and the Hazardous Waste Program.
Treated wood contains pesticides and substances that are safe when the wood is used as intended, but can cause problems if the wood waste is mishandled. The fresher and more unweathered the wood, the higher the concentration of hazardous chemicals they may contain. Treated wood should not be open-burned or burned in stoves, shredded into mulch, used as fill, or managed in any way that could allow hazardous substances to be released to the environment. Treated wood waste (including sawdust) should be disposed in landfills permitted for sanitary or demolition waste, or only burned in incinerators or energy recovery units that have permits to burn treated wood.
The department encourages using an integrated hierarchy to manage waste, including old railroad ties and utility poles. That hierarchy is:
- Reduce the amount of solid waste created
- Reuse and recycle
- Recover and use energy from solid waste
- Incinerate or dispose of in a permitted solid waste landfill
The department encourages railroad ties to be used and maintained within the railroad bed for as long as they can safely support the tracks.
Reuse and Recycle
Railroad ties are commonly reused as landscaping timbers, retaining walls, etc. Waste utility poles are commonly reused for building purposes, etc. If at all possible, waste railroad ties and utility poles should be reused for these kinds of purposes.
Railroad ties and utility poles may be used as an alternative fuel in certain high temperature combustion chambers such as cement kilns or power plant boilers. Any operation of this type would need temperatures of sufficient nature for the destruction of certain hazardous compounds. Any fuel usage would have to be permitted by the Air Pollution Control Program.
The open burning (including use of an air curtain destructor) of railroad ties and utility poles is prohibited. The rules of the Air Pollution Control Program prohibit the open burning of such trade wastes. Additionally, railroad ties and utility poles are routinely treated with creosote and pentachlorophenol. Because of the inefficient combustion that occurs during the open burning of these materials, toxic emissions will be produced, possibly causing a threat to human health.
However, the disposal of railroad ties and utility poles in an incinerator permitted by the Air Pollution Control Program may be allowed if the incinerator is specifically permitted for this type of material. An incinerator for burning railroad ties or utility poles will also require a permit from the Solid Waste Management Program to operate a solid waste processing facility.
As a regulated solid waste, railroad ties and utility poles may be disposed of in a permitted sanitary landfill or a permitted demolition landfill. No other land disposal option exists in the Solid Waste Management Law.
For more information on handling of waste railroad ties and utility poles, contact the Waste Management Program at 573-751-5401, the Air Pollution Control Program at 573-751-4817 or the Environmental Remediation Program at 573-751-3176.
Nothing in this document may be used to implement any enforcement action or levy any penalty unless promulgated by rule under chapter 536 or authorized by statute.