An eye on the markets: Another record year for waste wood

Richard Coulson, chair of the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA), reports on the WRA’s latest waste wood market statistics.

Waste woodLast year we were proud to announce that more than 4 million tonnes of waste wood had been processed in the UK for the first time.

And, this year, we are pleased to report that the industry has grown once again - processing a record 4.31 million tonnes in 2022, up from 4.17 million tonnes in 2021.

The annual 2022 figures, published this week by the Wood Recyclers’ Association, also show that waste wood arisings were constant last year at 4.5 million tonnes.

Looking at the figures in more detail, it is possible to identify a number of continuing and emerging trends.

Waste wood destinations

Large-scale biomass remained the largest user of waste wood last year, accounting for 63 per cent of total material processed, representing an increase of seven per cent year-on-year. This growth demonstrates the important role that waste wood biomass has played in delivering UK energy security at a critical time, with many plants striving to deliver near-constant availability during this period.

Panel board was the second largest user of waste wood in 2022, accounting for around a quarter (24 per cent) of total material processed. This represented a slight (3.6 per cent) decrease on 2021 when panel board manufacturers produced record volumes of product due to a DIY boom during lockdown.

The amount of waste wood used for animal bedding, equine surfaces, other recycling and reuse, decreased slightly, from 350,000 tonnes in 2021 to 322,000. This was largely due to poultry bedding production falling because of the Avian Flu pandemic. However, reuse alone was up by 19 per cent, to 20,655 tonnes.

Elsewhere, waste wood exports - with imports netted off - increased by 21 per cent in 2022 to 130,000 tonnes, linked to high demand for biomass feedstock across Europe, but remained below pre-covid levels.

Meanwhile, the total amount going to small-scale biomass increased from 80,000 tonnes to 90,000 tonnes year-on-year.

The figures are compiled using data from our annual survey of members - who account for over 90 per cent of waste wood processed in the UK - then extrapolated to build a picture of the UK total.

Total UK Market - Wood Waste Processed


So what do these statistics tell us? Firstly, the amount of material sent to these end markets appears to have stabilised following Covid and returned to pre-covid trends. This is despite last year’s challenging economic climate which saw our sector lose its entitlement to use cheaper red diesel in April 2022, shoulder rising costs and contend with a global energy crisis.

Particularly encouraging is that we are moving even closer to a situation where we have markets for all waste wood, and that reuse was up again, by 19 per cent year-on-year, to 20,655 tonnes.

The remainder of the 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood arising in the UK goes to informal markets, such as being burnt at bonfire night, burnt at home or at companies’ own premises and a very small amount still goes to landfill. However, the UK waste sector has the capacity to handle all this material.

Looking forward, the UK waste wood market is in great shape with well-developed markets for all arisings, including lower grade waste wood.

We are confident that more and more of the unreported waste wood will find its way to our members and we will be closer in 2023 to achieving full capacity – putting us on a firm footing this year.

This will mean 3 million tonnes going to Chapter IV compliant biomass, just over 1 million tonnes going to panel board manufacture, 500,000 tonnes of clean untreated material used for animal bedding and other high-value recycling and small-scale biomass and reuse continuing to grow.

We are structured perfectly for environmental compliance and we look forward to what the next few years will bring.

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