UK exports of waste wood biomass and panel board feedstock dropped by 50% in 2017 to 300,000 tonnes, as the material previously being shipped abroad seemingly moves into the domestic market.
That’s according to statistics compiled the Wood Recycling Association (WRA) in its annual members survey.
WRA members account for an estimated 86% of the waste wood market.
When calculating the overall volumes of material on the market, the WRA added in a further 14% to give an estimated total figure of 5 million tonnes of waste wood as being available for recycling and recovery in the UK.
The WRA produces its figures as there are no official government statistics for the volume of waste wood arising in the UK. In one detailed survey, published last year, consultancy firm Anthesis estimated that there was around 5.7 million tonnes arising per annum although the figure could be higher or lower as a literature review carried out at the time by the consultancy found waste wood estimates ranging from 4-10 million tonnes.
The WRA estimates that of the 5 million tonnes its survey says is available, 3.7 million is recycled or reprocessed. The remaining volume is either “landfilled or goes through unreported routes”.
The WRA’s executive director, Julia Turner, explained that this would suggest that while “there is capacity to increase, once this is reached the UK may need to import to meet demand”.
According to the WRA survey, 1.7 million tonnes of the wood recycled went to UK biomass plants in 2017, up from 1.6 million in 2016.
A further 1.7 million tonnes was recycled or reused into products including animal bedding, UK panel board feedstock and landscaping surfaces, an increase of 300,000 tonnes from 2016.
According to the findings, the remaining 300,000 tonnes of the wood recycled was exported as biomass or panel board feedstock. This compared to 600,000 tonnes in 2016.
The table below shows that according to WRA total estimates, the 300,000 tonnes of material that was previously exported is now used in the domestic market.
A WRA spokesperson said:
“In 2016 for the overall figures, we said that the same amount of waste wood was available as 2017, i.e. 5 million tonnes. Overall, in 2016, 3.6 million tonnes was processed. 1.6 million tonnes into panel board, 1.4 million tonnes recycled/reused and 600 k exported.
The WRA statistics appear to show that the domestic market for waste wood in the UK is growing, thanks in part to the growing demand from biomass plants.
With the continuing development of new biomass plants in the UK using waste wood there is an industry expectation that the export figure will fall further, and that the UK could even import waste wood from Europe.
Andy Hill, chairman of the WRA, used the release of the statistics to reiterate a previous warning of wood shortages if recyclers and reprocessors face storage issues over the summer months.
He said that due to the long winter this year, it has been a slow start to the year and recyclers need to be able to build up their stock levels ready for the peak off-take next winter.
“It is crucial recyclers are able to store quantities of material over the summer months,” Mr Hill explained.
He added: “We are urging the EA to look very carefully at each individual situation and if an operator can show they have annual off-take and the sites are genuinely covered with the necessary health and safety requirements they should be allowed to store larger quantities of materials.”