Waste wood processing rises by six per cent in 2019

The amount of waste wood processed in the UK has increased by six per cent to 3.98 million tonnes in 2019, according to new figures from a survey by the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA).

The figures, released yesterday (23 June), show that the amount of waste wood processed increased from 3.75 million tonnes in 2018, continuing the year-on-year rise that has seen a significant increase in waste wood processed from 2.8 million tonnes in 2011.

The newly released statistics also show that waste wood to be converted into Chapter IV biomass – biomass feedstocks that are burned for energy – rose by almost 14 per cent, to 2.39 million tonnes last year. The amount of waste wood processed into small-scale biomass also increased by 39 per cent across the UK.

Additionally, exports of waste wood across the UK fell steeply by 39 per cent from 313,000 tonnes in 2018 to 190,00 tonnes in 2019.

Julia Turner, Executive Director of the WRA, said: “We hope that such a healthy end to 2019 will stand us in good stead for surviving the impact of Covid-19, and are thrilled to see that with an estimated 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood available in the UK, so much of it is now being recycled or reprocessed.”

The total figures for the UK waste wood sector as a whole are based on responses from members of the WRA, which represents 90 per cent of the UK wood recycling sector. This year’s survey showed that WRA members processed more than 3.5 million tonnes of waste wood, an increase of 4.3 per cent from 2018.

The latest figures were also significant for the decrease of waste wood being processed into animal bedding, equine surfaces and other recycled products, which fell by 18 per cent across the UK, while the amount of waste wood processed by the panel and board industry rose by 12 per cent.

Turner added: “We suspect there is a correlation between the decrease in waste wood being
processed into animal bedding and the increase into panel board and small scale biomass, as both of these use Grade A packaging materials.
“We are also seeing a realisation of imports of waste wood starting and estimate around 20,000 tonnes came into the UK last year. We expect that to continue to grow this year.”

Long road ahead

Despite the promising figures for wood recycling last year, however, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has put the waste wood sector in an uncertain position, with waste wood industry experts predicting a long and difficult recovery from the pandemic. One of the main contributing factors to this difficulty is the closure of Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) across the UK, meaning wood recycling centres are suffering from a shortage of wood to process or recycle.

At a recent webinar organised by the WRA and the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), waste wood experts discussed the challenges the industry faces in the months to come. Among the issues addressed was the significantly reduced demand for panel boards, with a considerably slow return to normality expected for the sector and the industry as a whole. 

Speaking at the webinar, Vicki Hughes of Enva Wood Recycling predicted there could be a shortage of waste wood for processing of at least 400,000 tonnes over the next 12-18 months.