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Fit enough for the challenge

For smaller wood recycling operations, particularly those that have historically operated under an exemption from the Environment Agency rather than holding a permit, the new T6 regulations are likely to have the largest impact this year. Concerns have been raised that smaller wood recycling companies will be flushed out as they struggle to cope with the costs and extra requirements of obtaining permits, which may also require that they relocate their facilities.

As Manchester-based Hadfield Wood Recyclers managing director Geoff Hadfield explains: “With the new permitting system, you have to get planning permission from the council and local environmental office, which means that the environmental office now has a say in what happens.

“If you have had environmental issues, concerns or complaints, these will come out in the reports. So if you have not had good housekeeping, there is a chance you will be refused a permit - that is where a number of companies could have a problem. You can’t get a licence without planning permission, so some sites may have to relocate and, from a commercial point of view, all of this may not stack up.”

What this effectively means is that any sites that are not up to scratch are removed from the system, in a move to raise the overall operational standards of the sector.

Cornwall-based Wood Yew Waste managing director Clem Spencer has just set up at a new site in order to obtain a new permit. He says: “The change in permitting will be a major hurdle for companies to overcome, and there have been grave concerns that the T6 permits are not workable for wood recyclers. We have moved to new premises and that is the way forward for all medium-sized wood recyclers.”

For others, permits are seen as something that can be achieved at a cost, while the real concern is with the supply of wood waste coming in while the UK economy is not in good shape.

Dorset-based Eco Sustainable Solutions managing director Trelawney Dampney says: “My main worry is the cutbacks at local authorities and whether they can afford to have all these household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) - and what impact that will have on wood and composted material. Councils are starting to form their plans now, but there have been talks about closing down some HWRCs.”

He suggests this could lead to wood waste ending up in the general waste stream if the public no longer has access to facilities: “If it is not easy to recycle, there is only so much people will do [to recycle].” He adds that his company will be engaging much more with the commercial sector this year to secure supplies.

Spencer and Hadfield, however, both believe that because local authorities still have targets to meet, they will have to balance any cuts with their need to maintain their recycling obligations. “Local authorities must still give residents a service,” Hadfield explains, adding that local authority tonnages have not dipped as much as C&I tonnages coming in - a reflection of the economic situation.

Yorkshire-based Howarth Environmental has seen construction and demolition arisings down but wood packaging arisings up. However, spokesman Matt Howarth says wood gate fees are crumbling because of the presence of the biomass market, which became over-inflated with the talk (though not action) of several biomass facilities coming on-stream.

He suggests this was primarily due to the initial over-estimation of the available wood waste arisings in the UK. Figures initially suggested there were around 10 million tonnes available, but subsequent research has cut this figure by about half. Planning applications that had been put in for biomass facilities therefore have not been taken forward because of concerns around whether there is enough wood waste to supply them.

Howarth has also seen the volume of low-grade material increase, although he cannot pinpoint whether this means there is now more of such material around or whether all grades of material are coming in mixed because the financial incentive to segregate material has disappeared.

But, overall, the growth of the biomass sector is seen as being positive by wood recyclers as it offers an additional outlet for the sector’s material. Biomass is still predicted to be the biggest market for wood waste in the future, with Wood Recyclers Association figures for 2009 showing the biomass market grew by 33% for its members.

Dampney says that Eco is putting in a planning application for its own biomass plant, and adds that the market has changed substantially for generating power abroad. This is creating more demand for recycled wood and causing gate fees to fall.

Wood Yew Waste does in fact export some biomass to Sweden and Belgium because there are currently no biomass plants south of Bristol. With the chipboard market outlets going up and down, Spencer explains that wood recyclers need additional outlets. His company has teamed up with Forest Fuels, which supplies material to feed a number of small non-WID compliant boilers, such as those increasingly being fitted at schools and other organisations - and this offers an additional stable market to supply.

Looking for new markets and managing costs are the issues facing most businesses at the moment, and with the waste sector it is about ensuring a balance between incoming supply and end market outlets.

As Hadfield explains: “We depend on material and if the markets are not buoyant there is no waste, so the people dealing with waste are not getting the volumes through. These are hard times, so you have to structure the business accordingly and cut costs so that you are fit and lean and able to take the challenge on.”

While Spencer says optimistically: “I’m looking forward to the future - the new challenges involved and establishing yourself in new markets.”

STATS AND FACTS

32% the overall percentage the biomass/energy market grew for WRA members in 2009

T6 cans and cannots
Can: chip waste wood for use as fuel in boiler; cut waste wood for chipboard; shred waste plant matter for supply to a composting facility; treat or store up to 500 tonnes of waste over a seven day period; store waste for up to three months after treatment
Cannot: Chip/shred treated wood; sort waste wood/waste plant tissue from other waste; treat waste where the main purpose is disposal to landfill/incineration; compost/burn/manufacture products from waste wood; treat hazardous waste

IS IT STILL WORTH BEING ACCREDITED?

As revealed on 1 February on mrw.co.uk, the number of recyclers that have registered with the Environment Agency as accredited reprocessors for issuing Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) has dropped off this year. In 2010, 28 wood recyclers were registered but figures for 2011 currently stand at 18. Recyclers have put this down to the low value of PRNs - currently around 50p - versus the time, effort, paperwork and cost that are needed to become accredited.

Both Wood Yew Waste and Howarth Environmental decided not to register themselves as accredited reprocessors this year.

“Is it worth registration of £5,000, and the time and effort, when the PRNs are only currently at 50p each?” asks Howarth Environmental’s Matt Howarth. “If they were £5 onwards, it would make a difference and be worth the registration.” Wood Yew Waste managing director Clem Spencer agrees: “If you process less than a certain tonnage, it is just not viable. I think the PRN system has had its day - it served its purpose in the early days, but for ourselves it was not worth the effort.”

But while Hadfield agrees that there is a cost burden to being an accredited reprocessor and PRN values are as low as they have ever been, he still sees value in being accredited as part of his customer service offering.

He says: “We see an advantage in that some of our customers want us to provide them with that service and want to buy PRNs. It’s a reciprocal business: we give them PRNs and a full audit trail, and we do it so that we can be a one-stop shop for them.”

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