Waste wood classification change could be ‘catastrophic’ for UK recycling

Groups from across the waste industry have warned that proposed Environment Agency changes to waste wood classification could reduce the UK’s recycling rate by two to six per cent a year.

In a letter to the Environment Agency, the groups suggest that changes to how waste wood is treated could be ‘catastrophic’.

Waste wood classification change could be ‘catastrophic’ for UK recycling warn industry groupsProposals put forward by England’s environmental watchdog suggest that mixed waste wood should be recovered at the front end of the wood recycling and recovery process. It says that if the potentially hazardous properties of a mixed waste wood load cannot be properly assessed at the front end of the process then the whole load may have to be classified as hazardous.

The proposal comes following concerns that some treated waste wood is being described as untreated, Grade A material, which leads to it being processed in boilers that are not compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive. Wood waste comprised of untreated sawdust, wood shavings or wood offcuts and/or wood, particle board and facings is exempt from this regulation as long as it doesn’t contain halogenated organic compounds or heavy metals from wood-preservative treatment or coating. However, if a plant burns excluded waste along with any other regular waste then it has to follow IED requirements.

These fears were exacerbated by European Commission figures that showed that the German wood recycling markets records around 15 per cent of its waste wood as hazardous, compared to less than 0.5 per cent in the UK.

Following the proposals by the Environment Agency, however, a number of groups have jointly written to the agency to voice concerns. The letter was signed by the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA), National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO), the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) as well as major waste management companies Veolia, SUEZ and FCC Environment.

The groups say that the changes could be ‘disastrous’ for local authorities, explaining the around 40 per cent of waste wood is generated through household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and that additional separation or classification of mixed waste wood as hazardous would mean significant costs for councils.

In addition, they warn that the change could reduce the already struggling national recycling rate by two to six per cent per year, with the landfilling of recyclable materials increasing.

The letter has been supported by panel board manufacturers and biomass energy suppliers – two of the main industrial end users of waste wood, and Andy Hill, Chair of the WRA, said that the changes could have a “catastrophic” effect on the two, “both of whom contribute a huge amount to the UK’s economy and recycling/recovery targets”.

Hill said: “As a joint working group we have come together to ask the EA to reconsider its position and allow us time to move this situation forward without any knee-jerk reactions.

“Energy suppliers and panel board manufacturers account for 80 per cent of the UK’s total waste wood market, and already recognise there is a small risk of hazardous waste wood in their feedstock from recyclers.

“They have thorough testing regimes in place to ensure levels are consistently acceptable for their specific processes and do not pose a danger to the environment or human health. Both industries are also heavily regulated themselves and have had no issues to date.”

The WRA adds that with minimal disposal routes for hazardous waste wood in England, and none in Wales, local authorities could be unwilling to accept any mixed waste wood at HWRCs, leading to an increase in fly-tipping – an even greater burden on councils.

Explaining the reporting discrepancy between Germany and the UK, the WRA says that Germany sees hazardous waste wood as a commodity, and has established and accepted end user routes that do not currently exist in the UK, making them more likely to classify any mixed wood waste batch as hazardous.

Since learning of the proposed changes, a number of WRA member companies have been carrying out tests at their sites. The early results have been shared with the Environment Agency and indicate that between .01 to.02 per cent of total waste received during the past month as having been hazardous. These tests are due to continue through the Agency’s proposal period.

Environment Agency working with groups

Responding to news of the letter, Nicky Cunningham, Environment Agency deputy director for waste regulation, said: “We are not proposing changes to the classification of waste wood. As a regulator, we want to make sure that it is being classified correctly, according to the existing rules, so it is disposed of safely, protecting people and the environment.

“We are working with the Wood Recycling Association and local authorities to improve practices in the sector, and in the interim we are jointly developing temporary measures to manage risk. No decisions have been made yet and we are discussing options to ensure they are suitable and proportionate.

“Everyone in the waste chain has a responsibility to describe and check it properly so that waste wood ends up in the right place.”

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