Delegates attending the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) online summer meeting on 3 June were told the fallout from the decline in raw material would affect the sector for the next 12 months and could last for two to three years.
Vicki Hughes, group business development director for Enva Wood Recycling, said: “If we look at the two potential scenarios for the sector over the next 12 to 18 months, we think possibly the best case will be a shortage of just less than 400,000 tonnes of waste wood.
“However, in the worst case this could be significantly higher.”
Attendees of the webinar heard that within 10 days of lockdown on 23 March, there had been an 80-90% reduction in inbound waste wood on to recyclers’ sites in the UK.
The situation is said to have improved following the reopening of household waste recovery centres (HWRCs) at the start of May (see letsrecycle.com story). Eighty-two per cent of recyclers attending the webinar reported receiving wood from HWRCs.
However, the WRA says heavy restrictions and a lack of segregation carried out by some HWRCs is still affecting the volumes of wood reaching recyclers.
The panel board industry was said to be the worst hit part of the waste wood sector by the coronavirus pandemic, with order books collapsing overnight.
Housebuilding output in March fell by 6.4% from February and was 10.8% lower than in 2019, while retail sales of construction products fell by 18.1%. This is said to have had an enormous impact on panel board requirements.
All UK plants started a progressive shutdown in April and many staff were furloughed.
Mark Hayton, director of panel board specialists Egger UK, said: “Although the industry gained orders from the building of the Nightingale Hospitals during lockdown and unfortunately an increase in demand for panel board from the funeral sector, it will be a slow return to normality for the industry and sales orders are expected to be low for several months yet.”
Industry experts told letsrecycle.com in March the closure of local authority recycling centres would hit the supply of waste wood to some UK biomass plants (see letsrecycle.com story).
Richard Coulson is deputy chair of the WRA and biomass wood procurement manager at energy supplier RWE. He told the WRA webinar supply to biomass plants was 60% lower at the start of April than usual.
With European specialists unable to travel some plants cancelled planned outages and ran at a reduced load, he said. Others short of fuel were forced to switch off their plants, while some had managed to change the fuel mix and imported both virgin and waste wood.
“The next 12 months are critical,” Mr Coulson said. “If there is a second peak of Covid-19 or a recession, the reduced economic activity could result in the impact on our sector being felt for another two years or more.”