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Article filed under Waste to Wealth, Zero Waste & Economic Development

Baltimore’s Camp Small Zero Waste Initiative

| Written by Neil Seldman | No Comments | Updated on May 26, 2017 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/baltimores-camp-small-zero-waste-initiative/

Since 2016, Shaun Preston, a native of Anne Arundel County, has been operating a unique city-owned wood enterprise at Camp Small in north Baltimore. The enterprise, the result of collaboration between the Department of Recreation and Parks’ Division of Forestry and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability, is designed to reduce city expenses managing wood waste, and to divert city trees from landfills and incinerators. It also stimulates the growing wood based economy in Baltimore. Preston brings significant training and experience in wood and metal fabrication, as well as in museum and gallery design, to the Chief Operator position.

Since the nineteenth century, Baltimore city crews and contractors have been bringing logs, chips, and brush to the site for processing. The current enterprise started the Camp Small Zero Waste initiative in an effort to sort and distribute the variety of wood products at the site.1 The City’s Bureau of the Budget and Management Resource provided an Innovation Fund loan of just under $100,000 to the Forestry Division in order to start the business. The pay back has been dramatic. The first time clean up saved the city an estimated $75,000, and buyers were found for all the organic matter recovered.

Now, prior annual costs of $60,000 for clean up have been eliminated, and the city earns revenue from the sale of compost, mulch, wood chips and logs. In addition, the start up loan is being repaid by the Division to replenish the city’s Innovation Fund. As an economic dividend, the local supply of wood products supports existing jobs in sawmills and woodcraft companies, and has allowed this sector of the city and regional economies to grow by making raw materials available at very reasonable prices.

“The first job was cleaning up,” states Preston, since the site had 25 years of decomposed wood debris or “legacy mulch,” that needed to be removed. Preston used a rented deck screener and a city-owned track loader to produce compost and wood products from the mess. Over 6,500 cubic yards of the compost was sold as a soil amendment. About 500 cubic yards were used for in-kind city projects, and 2,000 cubic yards have been set aside for upcoming Forestry Division projects, such as tree pits and planting projects.

The cleared site allows for more controlled management of the daily flow of materials. On a daily basis, up to 10 tons of logs may be dropped off, along with up to 30 cubic yards of chips and brush, for inspection and sorting. Currently only Recreation and Parks’ crews and city contract crews can dump at Camp Small. While most of the logs coming in are decayed and rotten,  ten percent of the logs are sound.  These logs amount to 100,000 board feet annually. An on-site credit card reader and tablet increase ease of sales. Certified checks are also received. Sold logs are utilized for all sorts of purposes: furniture, bowls, art projects, outdoor seating at a community fire pit, ox yokes, and even whiskey barrels.

Regular customers can join the Woodhawks firewood program begun by the Camp Small enterprise. Members pay annual dues and are allowed to pick up un-split firewood logs from a designated pile once a month. The firewood collection program is open to anyone, although the number of participants is limited due to space and resource constraints. Camp Small is also considering auctioning off larger lots of firewood logs. The firewood is comprised of low-grade hardwood logs.

The business is currently operating on only two acres of the 4.5-acre site. Since October 2016, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) has been staging the construction of their Substation that will cover three acres on the north side of the property. The Forestry Division has been working with BGE to ensure that exemplary forest management standards are met.

By next spring, the full 4.5 acres will be available for composting and logging operations. “This opens additional opportunities for us,” Preston points out. For example, the site may be able to process more fall leaves from the city’s waste stream, which are currently going to the downtown garbage incinerator. As of now, the site handles 8,000 tons of logs, chips, brush and leaves.

Another goal of the Camp Small wood utilization enterprise, according to Preston, “is to build relations with all possible wood markets and learn their individual needs so we can recognize all possible future uses for each log.” This translate into more green business activity for the city’s and the region’s economy.


Jones Falls in Baltimore, Maryland

Camp Small At a Glance:

Camp Small is a five-acre site located in the Jones Falls Valley just north of Cold Spring Lane.

In 2016, through efforts by Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability and the Department of Recreation and Parks, an Innovation Fund loan was awarded and the Camp Small Zero Waste Initiative began.

The first big achievement of the city’s urban wood utilization project was finding a buyer to haul away material that that had been stockpiled. The removing of this material from camp small was an annual expense of approximately 60,000 dollars. This removal also freed up enough operational space for the screening of 14,000 cubic yards of ‘Legacy Mulch’ of decomposed wood chips. For this a Deck Screener was rented for three months and in the end 6,000 cubic yards of a nutrient rich compost was created. Of the 6,000 cubic yards 3,000 has been sold and the rest used for city projects, accruing in-kind savings.


Photo Credit: Andy Cook.

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  1. For further information about Camp Small go to http://treebaltimore.org/programs/camp-small/#.WNqd-45JnuQ