Storage rules forced wood recyclers to close

Written by: Andy Hill | Published:

Wood recycling in the UK has always been at the mercy of a seasonal cycle where tonnages peak for storage in the summer followed by a rise in demand for off-take during winter. Last year this caused bigger issues than ever. Andy Hill, chair of the Wood Recyclers Association, reports.

It is estimated that between four and a half and five million tonnes of waste wood is generated in the UK every year. The majority of this comes from the construction and demolition industry, but a large proportion is also generated by industrial packaging, furniture production and DIY/households.

Approximately three and a half million tonnes of this is recycled or recovered every year into products including biomass, animal bedding, feedstock for panel boards and mulches and pathways.

In 2012 the government estimated that by 2024, waste wood going to landfill would be less than 300,000 tonnes per year as a result of increases in landfill tax and subsidies for renewable energy generation. To a degree we can see that happening, but whether it is at the rate predicted in 2012 remains to be seen.

The seasonal cycle of waste wood arisings is a logical occurrence. The majority of the wood is generated naturally during the spring and summer months when construction and DIY activities are at their highest. This wood is traditionally stored by reprocessors for use during the autumn and winter months when demand for wood products such as animal bedding and biomass are at their peak.

Every year this inevitably results in some wood recyclers across the UK having to temporarily close their gates to incoming wood because their yards are full. It is a supply and demand issue.

However, 2015 saw a different picture emerge when more recyclers than ever before were forced into the position of shutting their gates, and for longer periods than historically experienced. The reason was due to tighter regulations from the Environment Agency on their guidance for fire prevention plans (FPP). The FPP guidance, issued last spring, led to many recyclers fearing their businesses would not be able to operate under the new storage rules.

The restrictions were impractical, particularly for a marketplace that has to operate in accordance with seasonal demand.

The result was a growing concern from waste processors across the industry – not just wood recyclers, but anyone storing combustible materials who were affected by the guidance. There was also an increase of tens of thousands of tonnes more waste wood being sent to landfill than the previous year.

Following campaigns from the waste industry, the EA agreed to consult on the guidance and we are now awaiting the results of that consultation. Our hope for wood recyclers is that we can help inform any future guidance so that it meets the needs of all parties concerned.

Fact file:

  • Between 4.5 & 5m tonnes of waste wood are generated in the UK every year
  • Around 3.5 million tonnes of waste wood are recycled or recovered into new products
  • The biggest use of recycled and recovered waste wood is for biomass, which is currently estimated at 900,000
  • tonnes a year for UK plants
  • The UK exports around 750,000 tonnes of biomass made from waste wood every year, mainly to Europe
  • The panel board industry uses around 800,000 tonnes of waste wood a year as feedstock for its products.

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