WRA: Four million tonnes of waste wood processed in 2021

The UK’s waste wood market processed more than four million tonnes of wood in 2021, says the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA).

Wood recyclingThe association’s annual statistics show that the amount of waste wood processed in the UK rose from 3.82 million tonnes in 2020 to 4.17 million tonnes last year, with the total amount of waste wood collected returning to pre-pandemic levels of 4.5 million tonnes.

WRA told Resource that the increase in waste wood can be attributed to ‘the impact of the closures of Household Waste Recycling Centres’, as well as ‘a reduction in commercial activity during the pandemic’.

Biomass continued to be the biggest user of waste wood in 2021, representing 61 per cent of the total amount of waste wood processed, an increase of 5.5 per cent on the previous year. Speaking to Resource, WRA said that this is due in part to an increase in biomass plants being operational.

They added: “This is secondly because biomass takes lower quality waste wood. Some of this could go for panel board manufacture, but the majority had no end market previously – it was sent to landfill or exported.”

WRA’s annual statistics pointed to a 10 per cent increase in the panel board sector’s use of waste wood compared to the previous year, reaching a record high of 1.08 million tonnes of waste wood going into the manufacture of panel board – representing 26 per cent of the total amount of waste wood processed.

Other recycling outlets, including animal bedding products, and the reuse of waste wood remained constant at 350,000 tonnes in total.

The statistics also showed an increase in the amount of waste wood exported which rose from 92,000 tonnes in 2020 to 139,000 tonnes in 2021. Imported waste wood dropped significantly from 82,000 tonnes in 2020 to 31,500 tonnes in 2021, meaning the UK remained a net exporter.

Richard Coulson, Chair of the WRA, said 2021 had panned out closely to the WRA’s predictions, particularly with an increase in exports again, showing the industry still features in a European market

“Last year we started to see a return to the normal seasonal pattern of waste wood in the UK following Covid, and that coincided with some extended outages in UK biomass plants,” said Richard.

“We knew that UK producers were handling increased enquiries from mainland Europe, particularly Germany, due to a lack of domestic supply. This, coupled with high power prices, drove European power plants to source additional UK imports, which was timely and welcome given the extended outages some UK biomass plants were facing.”

Richard said that the waste wood industry has shown a continued resilience to the pandemic, Brexit and other outside influencing factors and remains in a strong position.

“We have much potential for further growth,” he added. “We are particularly pleased to see usage from panel board surpass one million tonnes and that total UK usage of waste wood was more than four million tonnes for the first time ever.”

The WRA is urging the sector to remain mindful that UK biomass usage still has the capacity to grow further, potentially reaching three million tonnes, whilst it expects the panel board industry’s consumption of waste wood to remain around one million tonnes.

“If we assume 500,000 tonnes of clean untreated material will go for animal bedding, other high-value recycling, small scale biomass and re-use outlets then we can see that the UK market should become balanced,” said Richard.

“This would be a good thing in one sense. However, given the seasonal trends our supply-chain experiences annually, winter 2022/23 could become challenging for end-users who will need to ensure sufficient stocks against the import/export balance from mainland Europe,” he added.

“Given how critical domestic energy security is and that the UK waste wood biomass sector has the capacity to provide the equivalent of one per cent of the UK’s annual power consumption, we need to remain cautious on the effects of the wider European markets and be ever mindful of further economic pressures to come.”