8 January 2020 by Joshua Doherty

‘Potential crisis’ over demolition wood testing: WRA

The Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) has warned of a “potential crisis” – which could cost the demolition sector more than £100 million a year – if more waste wood samples are not submitted for hazardous testing. 

The trade body is now making an urgent appeal for waste wood samples from the demolition of buildings built before 2007 to be submitted for testing, as part of the Hazardous Wood Classification Project.

An urgent appeal has been launched for waste wood samples from the demolition of buildings built before 2007

Without these tests taking place, the WRA has warned the Environment Agency will “assume all demolition waste wood from this period is hazardous”, and it will be the responsibility of the contractor to prove otherwise before the waste can be moved from their site.

Samples of structural timbers, tilling battens and external joinery from pre-2007 buildings are all being sought to test for their potential hazardous content.

Costs

If not enough samples are received by July 2020, when the Agency’s Regulatory Position Statement comes to an end,  then demolition contractors would have to provide evidence that their waste wood is non hazardous prior to being allowed to move them, or pay to have it incinerated in a specialist facility.

According to the WRA, as well as organising and paying for the tests, the demolition contractor would have to have two skips to segregate between known non-hazardous waste wood and suspected hazardous waste wood on their site. Otherwise all the wood will be deemed hazardous.

“Current disposal costs for this is in excess of £250 per tonne, with very limited disposal capacity, meaning prices will inevitably rise,” according to the WRA.

“If we don’t prove what is hazardous now, the demolition sector will be left footing the bill”

Julia Turner, WRA

The WRA estimates there is potentially 400,000 tonnes of material a year involved in this sector.

‘Catastrophic’

Julia Turner, the WRA’s executive director who is leading the hazardous project, said: “If the demolition contractors don’t actively engage with us now and allow the testing of these specific waste wood items to take place, it will  have a catastrophic effect on the whole industry and indeed environment by increasing hazardous disposal.

“We know there is actually less hazardous material in the demolition sector based on the chemical wood treatments applied at that time than any of us originally believed. However, if we don’t prove what is hazardous now, the demolition sector will be left footing the bill to prove it themselves on a job-by-job basis.”

Classification

The waste wood classification project began in 2017 at the request of the Environment Agency and is being led by the Wood Recyclers’ Association, with the assistance of many other trade bodies and agencies.

Julia Turner, executive director of the WRA

As part of this, the Environment Agency published a Regulatory Position Statement allowing wood recyclers to continue using current methods while the work took place, which has been extended until the end of July 2020.

The WRA has been testing 300 samples of mixed waste wood from Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs), waste transfer stations and waste wood processors to examine what the hazardous content is.

This part of the project is now over halfway through the sampling process and the results are coming back as expected with less than 1% of material showing a hazardous content, according to the WRA.

Construction

Alongside the HWRC project, the construction and demolition sector were tasked with sampling waste wood materials from pre-2007 buildings. In this case they only needed to “prove that certain materials were hazardous and were required to carry out testing on 50 samples”.

“The results so far have proven the opposite: the materials thought to be hazardous are not coming back as hazardous. However, they haven’t received enough samples to make these results conclusive,” the WRA statement explained.

The WRA and the National Federation of Demolition Contractors, which is helping with the project, are now appealing for any company that can help to get in touch with them as soon as possible.

They are also interested in speaking to major construction and demolition companies who they believe may already have historical data as to the content of waste wood from demolition projects that could be useful for this project.

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