The UK’s waste wood market has processed more than four million tonnes of wood last year for the first time in its history.

The annual statistics collated by the Wood Recyclers’ Association for 2021, show the amount of waste wood processed in the UK rose from 3.82 million tonnes in 2020 to 4.17 million tonnes last year. The total amount of waste wood collected in the UK also went back up to 4.5 million tonnes after a decrease of 500,000 tonnes in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic.

Biomass was still the biggest user of waste wood in 2021, representing 61% of the total amount of waste wood processed, an increase of 5.5% on the previous year.

The panel board sector increased its usage of waste wood by 10 per cent on the previous year, reaching a record high of 1.08 million tonnes of waste wood going into the manufacture of panel board – representing 26% 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 1%  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.”

The WRA is the trade body for the waste wood market in the UK. It has more 100 members who account for just over 90% of total UK waste wood processing.


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