KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Inflation has hit everyone across the country recently. As consumers, we see price hikes all the time and so do small business owners.

The owner of an East Tennessee tree service company says his business has been affected especially hard. Brian Robinson, the owner-operator of Perfect Grounds, called WATE’S Don Dare to explain just how much more he’s paying this year compared to a few years ago. He shared that his costs have tripled since early 2020.

Fresh wood chips are often used for mulching around trees, shrubs, and perennials. The wood chips absorb and retain moisture. There are tree care companies whose business primarily consists of turning limbs and wood debris into chips. Once done, they drop off the chips and pay a fee to a specialized company that sells it as mulch. Recently, dropping off truckloads of chips has become a lot more expensive.

The crew for Perfect Grounds tree service was busy last week, cleaning up some downed trees and brush in Farragut. The business does upkeep around the water towers for the First Utility District. Some trees came down recently at one of the water tanks and Brian’s workmen cut the limbs and underbrush into smaller pieces. The limbs were then put into a wood chipper. Where the raw brush and limbs will eventually be turned into mulch, or wood chips, that will be used to landscape yards.

However, Perfect Grounds doesn’t deliver the chips to landscapers. Instead, Brian drops off the chips and pays a fee to a company called Living Earth. There are three facilities in Knoxville and the Texas-owned business is one the largest recyclers of tree limbs, brush, leaves and grass clippings.

Companies like Perfect Grounds and others provide raw materials for mulching, the wood chips for landscaping. Brian’s business pays by the ton as it drops off the wood chips. But Perfect Grounds only delivers the chips to Living Earth, and not the whole brush. The wood chips eliminate an extra step in the recycling process.

Robinson shared that in 2020 it cost $17 to drop off a ton of chips and $33 to drop off brush.

“Like everything else, everything is getting more expensive. The most recent thing is they have gotten rid of the difference between brush and chips. They now charge you full price for chips, have just had another increase. We are at $55 a ton for chips,” said Robinson. “Quite an increase ain’t it.”

As its costs rise, Perfect Grounds is forced to pass them on to customers. But, Robinson wonders how much of an increase can he absorb.

“Where we used to be able to stay competitive, now I worry about whether we are going to be able to,” said Robinson. He also wants to make sure he has enough to pay his employees.

“A lot of mouths to feed. They have families, wives, children. That is just what you see in the foreground. We have the ladies in the office and all the families that go along with them as well. They definitely have the good end of the business. They’re getting paid for it to come in and getting paid for it to leave, so. I’d like to see an explanation. Why all of a sudden do we not get a discount for bringing in chips when they can turn it directly into mulch? It’s not like it has to go through a huge process like raw brush does,” said Robinson.

WATE sought an explanation from Living Earth and the Texas company wrote back: “We base our prices on the cost of doing business, which fluctuates with the economy. The manufacturing industry has been especially hard hit by a dramatic increase in the cost of fuel, trucks and licensed operators over the past years.”

“I’m not just going to lay down and watch what I’ve worked hard to have go away. I’ve been blessed and I have a lot of good men. I want to watch them to continue to grow and flourish as well,” said Robinson.

Robinson says as a small businessman, at it now for 30 years, he’s never seen prices soar as they have in the last 24 to 30 months, just to drop off wood chips. Ironically, wood chip industry websites report there is a high demand for wood chips, yet a tight supply nationwide

In addition, many operators of tree care companies, like Robinson’s, according to reports, share their concerns about a lack of disposal options for wood chips and other debris from their tree work.