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Defra unveils wood consultation

Defra’s latest proposals tacitly rule out a fully-blown ban on landfilling wood and suggest ministers could consider no restrictions at all.  

The consultation document, Call for Evidence – Restricting Wood Waste to Landfill in England, does not explicitly mention the prospect of a ban in any of the 36 questions.

Moreover, Defra has asked for views on alternative measures to restrictions and stated they are “interested in the ‘do nothing’ option”.

The document said: “Government’s collective approach is to ensure that regulation is only used as the last resort and we would therefore welcome views on other measures such as improved collection and sorting infrastructure, producer responsibility schemes and increasing re-use of wood waste.

“In addition we are interested in the ‘do nothing’ option, given the direction of travel.”

It said the key issues to consider for any restriction of wood waste included:

  • The practicalities of sorting wood waste and establishing grading quality
  • Lead in times
  • Practical enforcement of any restriction

Taylor: ‘not a ban man’

The lack of consideration for an all-out ban was widely expected after waste minister Lord Taylor revealed to MRW in an exclusive interview in June that he was “not a ban-type person”.

He told MRW: “I’m not a ban-type person. Ban always sounds a little hard-edged. That is not the way you get the best out the industry. We are considering a ban on wood to landfill, that is one of the options.”

However, he appeared to be in two minds when he told environmental website Business Green this month that wood could be the first of many materials he looked to ban from being sent to landfill.

A Defra spokesman told MRW he was talking about a ban in “loose terms” and a restriction was still the preferred option.  

Respected figures including Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton, co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, have called for a wood ban.

Writing in MRW in June Whitehead said: “It seems that Lord Taylor may be pre-empting the consultation with his remarks that ‘bans always sound a little hard-edged’. I hope he doesn’t mean that.

Previous bans of items into landfill have worked well: maybe if we thought bans were indeed ‘hard-edged’, we’d still be merrily stuffing car tyres into landfill – but we aren’t because they were banned, and much better ways of dealing with them have followed, without much fuss being made.”

The document was published on 31 July and consultees will have until 28 September to respond.

Wood waste restriction pledge

  • The Government outlined its intention to consult on introducing a restriction on the landfilling of wood waste in 2012 in the Waste Policy Review 2011 announced last June.
  • This call for evidence invites views and information on the sustainable management of wood waste and measures to divert wood waste from landfill where this is the best environmental option.
  • Evidence shows that landfilling biodegradable waste such as wood waste leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Some countries have used landfill restrictions to drive wood waste out of landfill.

This quick Q&A edited from Defra’s consultation covers some of the key issues

Q: How much wood waste is created each year?  

A: The data on wood waste is not clear but estimates state the amount of wood waste produced in the UK each year is in the region of 4.3m tonnes (mt) and for England around 3.4mt.

In the UK over half of this wood waste (almost 2.3mt) is recycled or used for energy recovery, around 300,000 tonnes (t) is exported and between 0.8 and 1.2mt of wood waste is going to landfill.

Q: Where does it comes from?

A: Most wood waste comes from construction and demolition sources and pallets for packaging, with smaller volumes from municipal waste, joinery and furniture manufacture.

Q: What are the main markets for wood?

A: The main markets for wood waste are panelboard, biomass for energy generation, animal bedding, equine surfaces, mulches, pathways and coverings, with a growing export market.

The demand for wood as a source of biomass for energy generation in the UK has also been increasing over the last few years and is likely to continue to grow, if planned Waste Incineration Directive compliant plants are built.

Q: How much ends up in landfill?

A: Defra analysis estimates that by 2024 wood waste going to landfill will have declined to under 300,000 tonnes, driven by increases in the landfill tax and by subsidies for renewable energy generation.

To drive greater diversion of wood waste beyond this trend, new policy interventions could be required.

Most of the additional landfill diversion is expected to be low grade wood waste which would be diverted to energy recovery rather than higher up the hierarchy (for example to recycling).

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