Sustainability from the Ground Up

Currently, FEU cuts up old poles and stores them in onsite roll-off boxes before they are transported to landfills.​​

July 1, 2020

FEU’s newest sustainability initiative involves extending the lifecycle of our electric poles through a new trial program set to launch at Ohio Edison this July.

“Utility poles have always been one of FEU’s largest waste stream, with the majority of our old poles going into landfills,” said Che Brindle, advanced scientist, who is leading a team of Environmental, Supply Chain, Ohio Edison, Warehouse and Corporate Responsibility employees tasked with launching the pole recycling pilot program. “But we’re looking to change that by implementing a pilot program at a select number of sites to see if we can drastically improve our recycling and reuse rates.”

Twelve Ohio Edison sites were selected to participate in the three-month pilot: Elyria, Fairlawn, Macedonia, Mansfield, Marion, Medina, North Jackson, Salem, Springfield, Stow/Kent, Warren and Youngstown.

“Ohio Edison was chosen for this pilot because its footprint contains a good mix of urban city sites and rural locations. If the pilot works well at Ohio Edison, it can be easily replicated across all operating companies,” added Che.

Currently, FEU’s old poles are trucked back to a company location, where employees use chainsaws to cut them into smaller pieces. The pieces are then stored in onsite roll off boxes until a waste management company collects them for landfill disposal. Over time, this method amounts to a considerable amount of waste – each pole is roughly 50 pounds per cubic foot, with the average utility pole ranging from 300 to 4,100 lbs.

Under the trial program, Blackwood Solutions – a transportation and materials management firm – will pick up loads of Ohio Edison’s discarded poles collected onsite and redistribute them to other parties – such as farmers, mills, charitable organizations and even employees – for direct reuse.

Explained Che: “This is all part of our existing pole donation program. Employees can participate by requesting a load of poles th​at Blackwood will deliver to their homes. Wood from the poles can be lumbered and used for a variety of household, landscaping and woodworking projects. Both the poles and the delivery are free.”

FEU is hopeful the pilot program will help improve its waste management process for the material – transforming the disposal procedure into a more environmentally friendly, sustainable practice. The pilot will also help improve housekeeping and safety procedures onsite, as the poles will now be kept intact for reuse in a designated area, eliminating the need to cut them with chainsaws.

The team plans to gauge the pilot’s success by analyzing the tonnage of poles diverted from landfills, as well as the costs associated with the pilot compared to previous methods of pole disposal. If the program proves successful, there are plans to eventually extend its reach and resources to other FEU operating companies.

“FirstEnergy continues to make strong progress as a company committed to corporate responsibility – and Ohio Edison supports that mission,” said Regional President Ed Shuttleworth. “We’re proud to be part of this important sustainability initiative and appreciate all the work the team has done to make the pilot a reality.”