How do I dispose of railroad ties?

June 3, 2009 at 11:03 am 10 comments

Many companies sell railroad ties to landscapers.  Consider the wide variety of uses of railroad ties prior to landfilling them.  Image from Diamond K Supply..

Many companies sell railroad ties to landscapers. Consider the wide variety of uses of railroad ties prior to landfilling them. Image from Diamond K Supply.

I received a phone call this week about railroad tie disposal, and with the nice weather encouraging people to get out in their yards and do some cleanup or landscaping, I can’t say I am surprised.  According to Waste Age, 13 million ties are in need of disposal every year in America.  Over 90% of railroad ties are made of wood and usually treated with preservatives.  The most common preservatives are arsenic or creosote, which looks like a black goo.

Due to the wood preservatives, it is not advisable to burn railroad ties yourself.  There are, however, other disposal options.

Reuse.  Railroad ties can be used in landscaping when they are kept whole. 

Steps from railroad ties are just one landscaping option.  Image from Mindful Landscapes.

Steps are just one landscaping option. Image from Mindful Landscapes.

Check out this article by Jack Stone from ProGarden for a wide variety of other landscaping uses.


Railroad ties can also be used to make furniture.

Railroad ties can also be used to make furniture. Image from Keetsa.

If you don’t need any ties for this purpose, consider asking neighbors or posting a listing online.  

It is important to note that because of the chemicals used on railroad ties they should not be chipped or burned.  Also, they are not best used on soil that comes into direct contact with vegetables you intend to eat.  Use untreated wood beams to surround your vegetable garden.

Disposal.  If left whole, railroad ties can be treated as garbage and can be thrown away in a sanitary landfill.  Check with your municipality to see if they can be picked up on a large pick-up day or if you need to transport them to the landfill yourself.  

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lake Country Saver  |  June 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

    This is a great topic! We used railroad ties to build a raised-bed garden a few years ago. Alas, only weeds have grown in there since. Which I guess is good, since the chemicals could have ruined our veggies.

    I know someone who has started using old tires to “build” raised beds. She is growing veggies in them, and it seems like that could be a toxic place to grow something you’ll eat. Do you know anything about growing food in old tires? Is it advisable to avoid this practice? Thanks!

  • 2. Concerned about Chemicals  |  June 11, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I appreciate your article, but I would add something to your last item about disposing at your landfill. My landfill will only take them if they are not treated with creosote. How to tell you ask? My same question since they came with the house I bought. I was told by the landfill office to check for a smell. HMMM not the best confirmation, but nonetheless, I will give it a shot and just hope that the clerk who helps me when I take them to the landfill doesn’t have a sniffer that can pinpoint creosote better than mine!

    My old ties are rotting and in pretty bad shape, which is why we want them out of our yard, so I’m hopeful that the landfill will take them. We will be sure to pick an earth friendly material for any more garden edging in the future.

  • 3. Recycle Raccoon  |  June 11, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I just contacted the two local sanitary landfills in Waukesha County and both take ties treated with creosote. However, this is just in our area and landfills do differ. One landfill explained that they take old ties, even if they have been treated with chemicals, because they assume everything that is going to leach out of the ties already has. I think you hit the nail on the head when you focus on the future goal of using safer products! Thanks for the comment.

  • 4. Recycle Raccoon  |  June 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I did some research on using tires for veggie gardens and found several articles on the associated risks of growing food in tire shred mulch (available here and here). However other reports imply that merely being around tire shred is safe. However, reports on using whole tires were more difficult to find and less conclusive. I hope this information helps shed some light on the question!

  • 5. Trash Company Evans  |  January 20, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I appreciate that there are still some people who still care to our nature . Well it’s a nice idea to used this railroads ties in landscaping. I’ve tried before using old tires for growing veggies and it was cool. You should try it also. The main point is we should recycle in order to save our planet. :)

  • 6. Geno  |  June 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    On June 11 someone wrote…
    just contacted the two local sanitary landfills in Waukesha County and both take ties treated with creosote.
    I’d like to find out the names and numbers for the landfills and if they pick up?

  • 7. Recycle Raccoon  |  June 29, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    @ Geno
    Emerald Park is in Muskego — 414-529-1360
    Orchard Ridge is in Menomonee Falls – 262-255-8363
    Contact your municipality and ask if large items can be put out with your regular trash. If your community has added large item pick-up to the contract, you should be able to put them out on the curb. It is always best to check before you put things out.

  • 8. Cindy Norman  |  September 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I am in constant need of railroad ties for my horse training business. If anyone within range of zip codes 32092 or 31788 needs to dispose of whole (not broken up) treated railroad ties, please e mail me at

  • 9. Steve Bailey  |  April 1, 2012 at 9:21 am

    if anyone in need of railroad ties in Denver ,Colorado .I have 19 of them I want to get rid of please contact me at are currently holding up dirt,stacked two high across my yard.I want to redo my back yard starting with the removal of these ties.if you remove them,I will let them go for free.they are whole not broken up. thanks Steve

  • 10. eugene  |  April 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Hi, i work for a local water dept here in southern calif. and we are looking to get rid of about 50 to 60 railroad ties. They are free, some are in good condition and some are junk. you can reach me at

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