Waste wood exports see further fall in 2020

Exports of waste wood from the UK continued to plummet in 2020, according to the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) annual survey, as tonnages moved into the domestic biomass market.

The latest WRA survey results, released this morning (4 May), show exports fell by 52% from 190,000 tonnes in 2019 to 92,000 tonnes in 2020. This is the second successive major fall after exports dropped by 39% the previous year (see letsrecycle.com story).

HWRC closures led to the overall tonnage of wood falling, but domestic panelboard and biomass demand remained strong

In 2020, imports of waste wood quadrupled to 82,000 tonnes as biomass operators in particular looked to ensure feedstocks were high during lockdowns in case of any shortfalls.

The WRA has now tipped the UK to become a net importer of waste wood in 2021 for the first time.

The annual statistics give the clearest indication of the waste wood market, as there is no government data and members of the Association represent more than 90% of the market.

Volumes

The total amount of waste wood collected in 2020 was 4,050,000 tonnes, approximately 10% lower than in 2019 when it was 4.5 million tonnes. This was put down to household waste recycling centre (HWRC) closures during lockdown.

The proportion of waste wood used by large-scale biomass grew by 3% to 63% (2.6 million tonnes), while overall tonnages sent to biomass rose by nearly 7% from 2.39 million in 2019.

For animal bedding, the proportion of waste wood used increased from 8% (360,000 tonnes) in 2019 to 9% (364,500 tonnes) in 2020.

The proportion used as feedstock for the panel board industry also increased slightly from 25% in 2019 to 26% in 2020, although overall tonnages slightly dropped from around 1.1 million tonnes to over one million because the overall tonnages of wood in the UK was lower.

Increased domestic demand for waste wood has seen exports fall significantly since 2018

‘Pleased’

Richard Coulson, chair of the WRA, said the association was “pleased” to see that the industry “continued to function and even grow in 2020”, despite the tonnages of waste wood available falling by 10%.

Richard Coulson, chair of the WRA

He put the tonnage drop down to the closure of HWRCs during the first lockdown, combined with reduced commercial activity for part of the year.

Mr Coulson said: “However, a summer and autumn of DIY projects certainly helped to boost the stockpiles again and we have started 2021 in great shape with well-developed markets for all types of waste wood, including lower grade and mixed waste wood.”

Forecast

This year the WRA forecasts that 2.7 million tonnes of waste wood will be consumed by Chapter IV compliant biomass facilities, a steady growth on previous years towards the three million tonnes of capacity these facilities will provide once the newer plants are fully operational.

In addition, one million tonnes will go to panel board manufacture, 500,000 tonnes of clean untreated material will go for animal bedding and other high-value recycling, and small scale biomass and re-use will continue to grow.

“The UK is likely to become a net importer of waste wood as domestic demand for material increases”

Richard Coulson, WRA chair

Mr Coulson added: “Two positive outcomes of last year’s second lockdown for our industry were that there was in reality no bonfire night, thus no loss of wood to the market place through bonfires. Plus a reduction in exports and increase in imports. These factors combined with some extended outages at biomass plants, meant the sector did not suffer the usual seasonal variation of reduced wood waste availability through the winter. This has resulted in the UK waste wood supply-chain starting 2021 with good stocks.

“For 2021 we are predicting there will still be a small amount of export, but the UK is likely to become a net importer of waste wood as domestic demand for material increases.”

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