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UK 'could become waste wood importer'

Waste wood export levels fell last year and the UK could be a net importer by the end of this decade, a key figure has predicted.

Figures from the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) showed that 300,000 tonnes of the material was sent abroad last year.

This was down from 600,000 tonnes the previous year as domestic recycling increased, driven by improved demand from the construction and housebuilding industry and reduced supply of virgin wood.

The use of waste wood as feedstock for UK biomass plants increased slightly as new facilities opened for business last year. WRA executive director Julia Turner told MRW that major growth was expected in this sector, meaning it would soon require more waste wood than it could find in the UK.

“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,” she said. “Exports are falling because wood recyclers do not need to send material abroad to find markets. We predict the UK may become an importer by 2020.”

The WRA’s annual members’ survey showed an estimated five million tonnes of waste wood was created in the UK in 2017.

Of this, 3.7 million tonnes was recycled or reprocessed, with 1.7 million tonnes going to UK biomass plants and the same amount recycled or reused into products including animal bedding, UK panelboard feedstock and landscaping and equestrian surfaces.

WRA chair Andy Hill called for greater levels of storage to be allowed in light of the increased domestic demand. Waste wood is generally in higher supply in the summer but greater demand in the winter.

“It is crucial recyclers are able to store quantities of material over the summer months,” he said. “We are urging the EA to look very carefully at each individual situation and if an operator can show they have 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.”

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment.

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