The UK is heading for something of a boom time for domestic consumption. But wood recyclers are again facing difficulties in getting their stacking arrangements approved by the Environment Agency (EA) as they look to store larger amounts of material during the summer months.
Although the Wood Recyclers Association (WRA) said the EA has made progress in approving bespoke storage plans at individual sites, more needed to be done. According to the association, UK wood exports have fallen by 50%. Last year the figure stood at 600,000 tonnes while in 2017 it was estimated to be 300,000 tonnes.
WRA executive director Julia Turner told MRW that “major growth” was expected in the sector, meaning it would soon require more waste wood than can be found in the UK.
Each summer, wood recyclers need to deal with an increase in waste wood being produced, while off-take naturally decreases due to factors including planned shutdowns of some biomass plants and less need for animal bedding.
The WRA said the UK market has been driven by increased demand on all fronts, including for panelboard, which has seen a rise in demand from the construction and housebuilders sectors, combined with a reduced supply of virgin wood. In addition, more waste wood feedstock was needed last year as new biomass facilities came online.
Turner said: “We forecast that the use of waste wood in UK biomass will double from 1.6 million tonnes in 2016 to 3.2 million by 2018 or 2019. Exports are falling because wood recyclers do not need to send material abroad to find markets.
“We predict that the UK may become an importer by 2020.”
|Members’ annual reported tonnages for 2017|
A survey of WRA members found that, in 2017, around five million tonnes of waste wood was generated in the UK. Of this, around 3.7 million tonnes was recycled or reprocessed: 1.7 million tonnes to domestic biomass plants and the rest used for animal bedding, panelboard feedstock, landscaping and equestrian surfaces, among other things.
“We are really hopeful that we will soon be able to launch our template, which will enable more wood recyclers to gain FPPS and move their businesses forward.”
With this increased demand, the WRA is urging the EA to look at wood sites individually when determining storage and issuing fire prevention plans (FPPs).
WRA chair Andy Hill said: “It is crucial that recyclers are able to store quantities of material during the summer. We are urging the EA to look very carefully at each individual situation and, if an operator can show it has annual off-take and the sites are genuinely covered with the necessary health and safety requirements, they should be allowed to store larger quantities of materials.”
FPPs have been evolving in recent years as the recycling industry and EA work through arguments about commercial expediency versus safety issues. The EA’s third generation of its FPP guidance was launched in July 2016 in response to WRA complaints that the previous regime was “unworkable” because of tighter limits on stack sizes and burn times.
But the new guidance was still criticised as being too inflexible. Since then the WRA has been working with the agency and has drafted a waste wood template for wood recyclers and reprocessors. The draft is awaiting approval from the EA, and the WRA hopes it will help operators of all sizes to get their site-specific FPPs passed.
There has been some movement from the EA in response to these concerns, with the appointment of a new senior adviser to oversee FPPs, including for wood.
Hill said: “We have recently had a meeting with the new adviser at the EA who is responsible for FPPs, and we were pleased to see he has a strong relevant background and understands the issues the industry is facing.
“We are now working with him to progress the template as soon as possible, which will enable more wood recyclers to gain FPPs and move their businesses forward.”
Waste fires have again plagued the country this summer, it is no wonder the EA is being strict. But an agreement will have to be found in order to adapt to a changing wood industry and allow businesses to thrive.
Overseeing Safe Waste Storage…
The EA has appointed former fire service Chief Peter Buckley to a role that oversees safe waste storage.
Buckley was at the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service for 26 years, most recently as group manager, and he becomes a senior adviser at the EA. His remit will include technical support for fire protection plans (FPPs), introduced to reduce the risk of blazes in the waste sector.
An EA spokesperson said: “We have recruited a senior adviser to give technical support on FPPs and environmental permits, as well as assisting the WRA with its waste wood FPP template.
“The senior adviser will provide valuable technical expertise which will help us to ensure that waste can be stored in such a way that accommodates the needs of business while minimising risks to local people and the environment.”