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A colorful market: colored wood mulch is providing a sustained market for many wood recyclers. (C&D Series).

Colored wood mulch might be something that goes almost unnoticed because of one characteristic that makes it so popular--consistency. The even, rich tone available with colored wood mulch makes it an ideal product for landscaping applications, and a market with great potential for recyclers.

Markets for the product continue to grow and expand, creating more demand for clean wood waste and, in some areas, driving up prices for the commodity.


Colored wood mulch has been around for about 10 years, says Vince Hundt, president of PCR Inc., Coon Valley, Wisc. Shredded bark was typically used for ground cover, "but as suburban culture changed and people wanted to spend more money on ground cover, a Clevelander patented adding color to industrial wood waste and making it look more attractive. Simultaneously, the recycling mandates were coming, so by adding a dash of colorant to the wood waste you have an attractive product."

The Clevelander Hundt refers to is Greg Rondy, who was the founder of AmeriMulch. The company, based in Independence, Ohio, makes both equipment and colorants that it supplies to grinder manufacturers as well as to contractors who make and apply colored mulch.

Several factors can affect demand for colored wood mulch, says Todd Schnathorst, marketing coordinator for Becker Underwood, Ames, Iowa. "There are two things that make the demand--population and wood sources," he says. "You need those two things."

Hundt says markets for colored wood mulch began in Ohio and then spread east and west. There are several areas in the South where the product is just now gaining popularity. The Ohio/Pennsylvania area is a strong market, he says, because of a healthy horticulture base. "There still seems to be a steep growth curve in those areas," Hundt says. "I think it just took a certain amount of time to catch on, as does the flow of information. The market grows as people physically see it in use and once you see two or three homes with nicely toned, soft brown colored mulch."

Mark Lyman, president, West Salem Machinery, Salem, Ore., says anything east of the Mississippi is a strong market for the product. "It appears to be really catching on. It seems to be a product people like and that has some definite advantages over some competing products, mainly shredded bark."

Florida is a strong market for colored wood mulch, as the landscaping season in that state is year-round, says Dan Brandon, marketing manager for Morbark Inc., Winn, Mich. "It is becoming really popular and seems to be growing quite steadily," he says. "The main reason for that is that we are seeing customers who are increasing the value for that waste material three and four times."

Two reasons why colored wood mulch is so popular, Lyman says, are that the product holds color longer and does not fade. Also, the product tends to hold together fairly well, which could aid in weed suppression.

Dave Frahm, customer service manager for Fecon, Cincinnati, agrees certain regions can have stronger demand for the product than others.


Several colors of waste wood mulch are popular, varying some by region. Brandon says red is the most popular color, by far. Morbark offers five red mulches along with gold, cypress, black, brown and dark brown.

Brian Shea, president of T.H. Glennon Co., Salisbury, Mass., agrees reds are in demand. "Red is the most popular, then there are different gold blends, browns and blacks." He says colored wood mulch is sold to both commercial and residential accounts. "The New England market is huge in terms of colorant, and New Jersey and New York are very big too. Texas and Arizona are areas that are not coloring as much."

Joe Alexander, project sales manager for Kurtz Brothers Inc., Independence, Ohio, says browns, blacks and golds are in demand, as well as customized colors such as blue and orange for schools and universities.

In southern Ohio, reds and blacks are quite popular, Frahm says, with dark brown rounding out the top three. Customized colors are also popular, but are more expensive because of the limited demand for those hues.

Frahm says mulch that is not colored will fade quickly from UV exposure and the elements. Colored mulch can withstand the elements better, although climate can affect how long a colorant stays vibrant. Colored mulch will have a more consistent color and will hold that color for a longer time, perhaps around a year or so. The degree of wear does depend on the wood type colored and the quality of wood. "It depends on the type of wood as well and how porous it is. Also, did it [the colorant] get a chance to dry and set before it rained?"

Frahm says colored wood mulch is something not often noticed until pointed out. "Until you are looking to buy some, or you are in the business to sell the equipment, do you really start to notice."


Wood mulch begins with shredding waste wood, most typically from pallets, packaging crates or other wood waste, as long as it is free from contaminants. Clean construction and demolition debris can also be used. Areas with logging activities and forestry are also favorable to the making of colored wood mulch, as sufficient feedstock is available.

There are several processes for coloring the mulch, with probably the most popular being a batch system in which the wood is ground and colored in separate processes. Typically, the wood is ground and a screen is used to filter out contaminants and large pieces. This method allows stockpiling until a sufficient amount is available for coloring. This can be a more efficient method for operations that do not have mulch coloring as a primary business.

The second method is a continuous system where material is fed into a hopper and grinder, and then fed directly into a coloring system. "You can grind right into the coloring machine if they have a coloring machine that can keep up with the grinder output. It is a little faster. It is fed continuously and moves it through a chamber and colors it then move it out," Frahm says.

Typically a water-soluble paint or colorant is used to color the waste wood mulch. The general consensus seems to be that about three pounds of dye are needed for each cubic yard of mulch. "Basically," Frahm says, "the water is a carrier for the colorant. You know about how much water you will need and you adjust it until you hit it just right, because the material may vary within the pile. If it is a very wet material, you will not be adding water to it. If it is very dry you will put in your normal rate. Very dry wood will suck up the paint a lot."


There are several factors that can affect the amount of colorant needed. "The coloring has a lot to do with how the wood is ground," says Brian Shea, whose company makes mulch colorants as well as the Mulch Color Jet application system.

Mulch with a higher amount of fines will soak up more colorant, making the process more expensive, Alexander says. "From a horticulture perspective you don't want a super fine fiber, instead a standard double mulch grind ... it holds up in the landscape better and doesn't wash out and doesn't erode. And certainly if you had a lot of fines then it soaks up more paint, and that is not ideal."

Adds Frahm, "When it comes to coloring the mulch with our machines, the main thing on size is that if you have a lot of fine material, almost sawdust material, it takes more colorant per yard and it sucks up the paint."

There are not any real problems, he says, with material being too big to be colored. Most grinder models should get material to a small enough size to be colored.

From the other point of view, however, material that is more finely ground can work its way into the soil more quickly, providing nutrients to plants.

Shea says that different regions of the U.S. also have different demands for the variety of grades of mulch. Areas such as New England seem to want a more finely ground mulch, while mulch users in Atlanta and Miami want a larger mulch size.

There are several contaminants to avoid, including metals, oils, paint, agricultural chemicals and industrial solvents, Hundt says. Other contaminants to avoid, he says, include arsenic treated wood and any wood contaminated with chemicals. "You wouldn't want anything on this lumber that could end up being on a school yard."

You are really looking for a fairly clean virgin wood product that you can pull from the waste stream and then process and turn into a sized material that can be colored," Lyman says. "You obviously don't want to have plastic material mixed in with it and things that are going to detract from the look of the material."

Brandon says many of his customers use trommel screens to sift out any potential contaminants and fines to get a clean, uniform material.

Frahm says that the safety of the end user is a high concern when it comes to contaminants in the wood mulch being colored. "It is not so much out of concern for the machine," Frahm says, "but an end user concern."

The shade of color used can also make a difference, Schnathorst says. "It really comes down to if you are coloring gold, then you want to use a fresh wood. But if you use an older wood then it will be a darker color."


The outlook for markets for colored mulch seems to be nothing but positive. Shea says he thinks the potential growth for colored mulch could be as much as 30 percent. It is a value-added product and can be very profitable for a landscaping company. He says an investment in equipment on the company's part could yield significant returns as colored mulch can fetch several dollars more per yard than mulch that is not colored.

RELATED ARTICLE: Grind it thoroughly.

When it comes to using waste wood for mulch, many recyclers agree that skimping should not be done during the grinding process.

There can be several advantages to creating a product that is more finely ground. One is that the resulting mulch breaks down in the soil faster, providing its nutrients to surrounding plants.

Another reason is that it is more difficult to identify the product as having derived from waste wood (as opposed to natural sticks and branches) if it is ground into smaller pieces.

For both of these reasons, a more finely ground mulch product will often fetch a higher price on the landscaping products market. It also works out well for mulch suppliers that the product that breaks down into the soil faster will also need to be replaced more often--resulting in greater overall mulch sales.

The one downside for processors is that a product that spends more time in the grinder will require slightly higher operating costs in terms of power and labor to do the grinding and a quicker replacement schedule on wear parts.

But ideally, the higher product price and increased demand will more than make up for any increased processing costs.
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Comment:A colorful market: colored wood mulch is providing a sustained market for many wood recyclers. (C&D Series).
Author:Goodrich, Melissa
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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