Debris Disposal

Patricia Skinner  |  1/16/2007 9:16:12 PM

Cleanup after a disaster can be a major problem. Debris from trees, shrubs and buildings may be everywhere. Even though extra resources may be provided to the community to help with disaster cleanup, it may be some time before collection is possible. You may have to dispose of some items on your own. Some damaged materials and debris may be useful, such as tree trunks for lumber and trees for firewood and as erosion control.

Proper cleanup and disposal will prevent future health and injury risks and may save time and money. Debris removal will reduce the potential for nesting by rodents, snakes and insects or at least keep those infestations in a concentrated area away from the home.

Safety Reminders

  • Be careful around damaged buildings and trees. These may fall if they are damaged severely.
  • Broken glass, nails and sharp limbs may cause injury.
  • Snakes, animals and insects may be hidden in this debris.
  • Check for leaking gas and fallen power lines before beginning cleanup.
  • Do not let children play on or around debris.
Insurance and Community Services May Help

The cost of debris removal may be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. For guidance on tax considerations and appraisal needs, contact a professional accountant or tax adviser. Also, after disasters, cleanup help is sometimes provided by the parish, state or federal government. Local codes and regulations may be relaxed for a brief period following a disaster. If you think your need for debris removal assistance is not known to local officials, contact your parish office of emergency management.

Other tips include:

  • Contact your insurance agent and review your policy to see what coverage you have on tree and debris removal. Document your damage with photographs or video if possible. Otherwise, make a descriptive listing of the damage. Write down whether the damage was caused by floodwater or by wind -- it will make a difference in which policy covers the cost of removal.
  • Listen for public announcements or contact local authorities to see what provisions have been made for disposal of building debris and trees, limbs and brush (vegetative debris). Public collection, local dumping or burning of certain materials may be provided.
  • Where debris pickup is done by the city or parish, separate your tree litter and other vegetative debris from building debris.
  • Do not burn any debris unless authorized to do so. Control any burning carefully. Do not burn during windy or rainy conditions.
Handling and Burning Debris

Some items that have been flooded may have chemical or biological contamination. Wear heavy rubber gloves and other protective clothing when handling hazardous items.

  • Collect wet or damaged insulation carefully, and bag it if possible. Fiberglass fibers will irritate skin and lungs after contact or if inhaled.
  • Handle old siding and roofing carefully, and bag it if possible. Old building materials may contain asbestos.

In areas where burning has been permitted:

  • Do not burn asphalt roofing, vinyl siding or any form of treated lumber. The smoke can cause eye and lung irritation or other problems.
  • Do not burn old roofing and siding; it causes hazardous conditions.
  • Do not burn at night to avoid smoke problems.
  • Follow any other burning guidelines and regulations announced by local officials.

Recycling Tree Debris

Use as much tree and plant waste as possible to prevent a burden on landfills.

  • Cut suitable trees for firewood.
  • Fallen trees should be cut within one year for use as firewood, and the stacked wood should be protected from rain. The thermal content of wood decreases as decay increases.
  • Ash, oak and pecan make very good firewood. Pine and gum would be better used for other purposes.
  • Firewood splitters may be available for rent.
  • Make mulch and compost.
  • Most tree waste will be decayed within several years, and it provides a valuable source of organic matter. Nitrogen fertilizer can be added to mulch and organic matter to break it down more quickly.
  • Chippers may be available for rent. For more information on composting and making mulch, ask for the LSU AgCenter publications “Backyard Composting” and “Basic Principles of Composting.”
  • The best trees for mulch are softer species which decay faster and are easier to compost.
  • Use tree sections creatively. Tree sections can be used as framing for raised beds, for temporary bridges and for erosion control on steep, eroding sites.
  • Tree sections may be piled in rural areas for wildlife habitat or fish shelters. Be sure fish shelters are firmly secured in flowing waters to prevent downstream blockage of waterways.
  • Some trees may regrow from the stump. When cut off at or above the ground, many favorite trees will sprout from the stump and grow again. Trim them neatly and make clean cuts on any trees needing pruning. Contact local nurseries or your county agent for pruning advice.
  • Accelerate stump decay. Dead tree stumps left in the ground will decay, sometimes producing large holes. This will take several years. To speed up the process, consider using a stump grinder where large trees have been lost. The occasional addition of nitrogen fertilizer to the top of a grooved stump will also promote rapid decay.

If you're piling debris on your property for future disposal, consider the impact of debris piles on your lawn. See "Avoid and Repair Storm Spots"

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