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An estimated 4.5-4.6 million tonnes of waste wood was generated in the UK in 2007, deriving from construction and demolition, commercial and industrial and household sources. However, this figure fell to 4.1 million tonnes in 2010, largely due to reduced activity in the construction, furniture and joinery sectors after the recession.
By 2011, around 60% (2.8 million tonnes) of the UK’s waste wood was recycled or used in energy recovery. This represents a big leap from 1996, when less than 4% was recycled.
Traditionally, the largest outlet for clean, recycled woodchip has been the panel board industry, which uses the material in the production of chipboard. Reprocessed wood packaging – such as pallets – is also eligible for support under the Packaging Waste Recovery Note System (PRN).
However, an increasing number of wood recyclers are diversifying into “value-added” markets such as animal bedding, for which higher grade – clean and untreated – waste wood is allowed. Waste wood markets for equine surfacing, public pathway surfacing and garden mulches have also been steadily developing for grade ‘A’ waste wood.
Dedicated biomass plants – both at home and abroad – have also offered a growing market for recycled woodchip, as the government strives to generate more renewable energy and councils and waste management firms seek to divert lower-grade wood, which is not suitable for recycling, away from landfill.
Overall, the combination of a higher overall demand for waste wood and lower wood waste arisings has been reflected in lower gate fees for wood recyclers since early 2009.
However, a number of biomass plants due to take waste wood have either come online, or are expected to shortly, in Scotland and the north of England. This has impacted on gate fees for waste wood, with greater demand for material leading to lower gate fees – or in some cases in Scotland even non-existent or negative gate fees – in the north of the UK.
In more southern parts of England where there is smaller capacity for waste wood biomass, however, there is greater emphasis on the export biomass market to the likes of Scandinavia, which is prone to seasonal variations in demand between summer and winter. With lower demand, waste wood gate fees are generally higher in the south of England.
Currently, the Environment Agency’s proposed limitations on waste wood storage could have a huge impact on the wood recycling industry, with the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) concerned that limiting the amount of material allowed for storage could render some wood recycling businesses unviable.