Andy Hill, chair of the Wood Recyclers Association, gives an overview of the UK’s waste wood market

Over the past year, the wood recycling sector has continued to grow, mature and develop, with around 3.5 million tonnes of waste wood being recycled or recovered into the industry’s mainstream products, including feedstock for panel board, animal beddings, arena and play area surfaces, and biomass fuel.

This is likely to expand even further in the near future, with two million tonnes of additional capacity being created by new biomass plants set to become operational within the next 12 to 18 months.

The growth in biomass has already created concerns among some about supply of feedstock, and it will be interesting to see how the industry will respond and change as a result of this. One outcome could be that the focus shifts from exporting material to importing waste wood.

Whether this becomes necessary remains to be seen, but the sector is already working more closely with its European cousins; the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA) recently signed a reciprocal membership agreement with BAV, its German counterpart, to share more information and work more closely together.

BAV handles 80% of waste wood in the German market, around seven million tonnes a year. Its members face many of the same issues we see WRA members come up against in the UK. We feel strongly that working closely together can only enhance learning on both sides, which will ultimately benefit all our members.

Combining forces

We hope the partnership will open up the opportunity for us to carry out joint lobbying on issues affecting the waste wood market, as well as share knowledge of best practice and market intelligence for the benefit of our respective members and stakeholders.

So what else has the industry been focused on over the past year? Well, the wood recycling sector has arguably been in the spotlight more than ever in its history. The main reason for this has been the focus on fire prevention plan guidance and the role the industry has been playing in helping to shape that guidance.

Those working within the waste and recycling sector cannot fail to have noticed the furore that occurred around the Environment Agency’s fire prevention plan (FPP) guidance last year. It arose on the back of an increase in waste fires over the past two to three years, which prompted the EA to look more closely at how waste and recycling sites are permitted and what fire prevention and detection measures are in place to try to reduce the number of fires.

The resulting guidance, FPP, had a potentially catastrophic effect for the waste wood industry even though less than a handful of the waste fires had occurred on wood sites. But perseverance and determination on the sector’s part has finally led to an open dialogue with the EA which we hope will lead to a better understanding on both sides and ultimately flexibility within the guidance to allow bonafide operators to continue with their business.

FPP Waste Wood Template

The WRA is now working with the EA to develop an FPP Waste Wood Template, which will define acceptable ‘alternative measures’ to give wood recyclers the flexibility required to approve non-standard fire prevention plans. As part of this work, the WRA will create a model which will give guidance for different fraction sizes of wood.

The fact that the sector has played such a huge role in bringing this issue to light is one it should be proud of. It shows a maturity and understanding among operators that may not have been possible 10 or 15 years ago.

It also shows that the majority of the operators in the sector are willing to work to a set of benchmarks in order to raise standards within the industry, as long as they are fair, reasonable and practicable.

As the sector moves forward, we will continue to face increased regulation, as will other areas within the industry. We need to be prepared for this and willing and able to embrace it.

With that in mind, the WRA is going to begin work on a code of practice for waste wood recyclers and reprocessors.

The code will include minimal standards that members will have to adhere to and will be aimed at raising overall standards across the waste wood sector to ensure it is sustainable for the future.

The EA has welcomed this move, as have many of the market’s long-term operators because they recognise that by having a code of practice, we will have more chance of being able to root out unscrupulous operators who are out to make a short-term buck.

Overall we are optimistic about the future for waste wood recycling in the UK and, although there might be challenges still to face in the times ahead, we are also confident there will be many exciting opportunities for waste wood operators going forward.

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