Statistics underline how far the wood recycling sector has come

The 21st anniversary of the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) provided an opportunity for its Executive Director, Julia Turner, to look back at not only how far the WRA has come but also at the transformation of the wood recycling industry over the past two decades.

The celebration at the Belfry Hotel near Birmingham followed the timely publication of the latest WRA annual UK waste wood statistics, showing that over four million tonnes of waste wood was processed for the first time in 2021.

In his speech at the anniversary conference, WRA chair Richard Coulson explained that the WRA – the trade association for the wood recycling sector – was formed when a handful of wood recyclers came together in 2001.

At the time, the main outlet for recycled waste wood was panelboard, with the sector using just 400,000 tonnes of material a year – only 10% of available feedstock.

Fast forward to 2021 and the new WRA figures show that over one million tonnes of waste wood was sent to the panelboard industry last year, with a record 4.17 million tonnes of waste wood processed overall. This represents over 90% of waste wood being recovered.

This sharp growth has been in part due to the development of new markets for waste wood, including animal bedding and biomass.

Legislation, such as the Landfill Tax, PRNs and renewable energy subsidies have helped to divert material away from landfill and further up the waste hierarchy.

We should be proud of this and strive over the next few years to realise 100% recovery of UK waste wood.

Today, the WRA figures show biomass is the main outlet (61% in 2021) for waste wood. Indeed, waste wood sent to biomass increased to over 2.5 million tonnes last year, while waste wood sent to panelboard also increased to a record high of 1.08 million tonnes – or 26% of the total.

Alongside diverting material from landfill, the wood recycling sector has also made an important contribution to the UK economy and the net zero agenda.

According to calculations by the WRA and Wood Panel Industries Federation, the use of waste wood in chipboard over the past 21 years represents 25 million tonnes of carbon sequestration.

Meanwhile, using the DECC/OFGEM carbon life cycle calculator, it is estimated that waste wood biomass realised 2.27 million tonnes of greenhouse gas savings last year alone.

The industry’s progress was applauded by Richard at the 21st celebration who said the sector was “busier than ever” and had potential to recover even more waste wood.

However, he warned that it was important that offtake was not put at risk when biomass subsidies end.

He commented: “With the end use market capacity we have available to ourselves today we have the opportunity to realise the complete recovery of all UK waste wood domestically, some 4.5 million tonnes.

“We should be proud of this and strive over the next few years to realise 100% recovery of UK waste wood.”

In order to spread these messages around wood recycling, the WRA is now working alongside its members on an MP engagement project. A key aim of this is to raise the profile of the wood recycling sector and underline the role that biomass plays in UK energy security.

With strong policy drivers in place to incentivise both resource efficiency and improved sustainability, the WRA feels it is the right time to share these achievements to the wider UK policy forum. The WRA has written to Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and is following this up by working with its members to write to their own MPs.

We hope this project will shine a light on the valuable contribution the wood recycling sector has made over the last 21 years – and what the next 21 years could bring.

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