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OPINION: Higher packaging recycling targets are welcome news for wood recyclers

Julia Turner, executive director of the Wood Recyclers’ Association, explains why Defra’s confirmation of higher targets for wood packaging last week is good news for wood recyclers


OPINION: When the packaging recycling targets for 2024 were confirmed by Defra last week, we were heartened to see that the target for waste wood packaging is set to rise from 35% at present to 42% next year.

The targets are important because they help to determine how much support wood processors – such as manufacturers of panel board and animal bedding – receive through the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN) system.

Julia Turner, executive director of the Wood Recyclers’ Association

What made this increase especially encouraging is that wood is the only material-specific target to be raised – something we believe is testament to all our hard work at the WRA this year in calling for higher targets for wood and highlighting how low the wood targets are.

In fact, for years the wood targets have not been at a sufficient level and are far lower than that for any other material – meaning that support for our sector over the years has been minimal at best.

In a disappointing move in 2020, ministers even dropped the wood target for 2021 from 48% to 35%, to bring it in line with EU targets, thereby putting downward pressure on wood PRN prices. This was surprising given that the targets were being easily met, even amid the Covid pandemic.

To highlight this issue, we wrote a letter to Defra in May this year calling for higher wood packaging recycling targets from 2024 in order to drive investment in recycling and ensure that as much wood packaging as possible is recycled in line with the waste hierarchy. The letter was co-signed by the Wood Panel Industries Federation and Confor (Confederation of Forest Industries).

We were delighted to receive a response in June from Resources and Waste Minister Rebecca Pow who said she was open to increasing the targets – something which has now borne fruit.

Alongside higher wood targets, we were pleased to see in last week’s targets confirmation that the general recycling target is also set to increase next year, from 77 to 80%. This target is important as it provides an incentive to exceed the material specific target and provides flexibility within the PRN system, thereby providing further support for wood recyclers.

EPR

However, while these higher targets are welcome, it is crucial that the targets do not stop there and are suitably ambitious going forwards.

As we transition to EPR, future recycling targets must be set at a level which ensures high levels of wood packaging recycling in line with the waste hierarchy and protects this important resource.

During our discussions with Defra, we recommended a target of 50% with a minimum 45% required to incentivise the separation of clean wood for recycling and to protect recycling rates and we hope this is reflected in future targets.

We would also like to see the general recycling target retained as this provides additional valuable support for our sector. These measures need to be introduced alongside Defra’s plans to introduce reuse targets for wooden pallets and cable drums, to ensure the best environmental outcome for both wood packaging which is reusable and that which is not.

Higher wood packaging recycling targets are long overdue and we hope the 2024 targets are the first step towards protecting UK recycling and realising the full potential for waste wood.

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