Branching out for sustainability

The wood waste recycling sector is helping drive collaboration and resource efficiency. Nicola Meadows, RWM Event Director at Ascential calls for policymakers to take the initiative in supporting growth in this sector as part of a wider transition towards a circular economy. 

 Waste wood has been largely overlooked as a resource – over 10 million tonnes of it are produced in the UK each year from sources including public sector bodies, the construction and demolition industries, as well as industrial and manufacturing processes, and retail. And yet most of it still ends up in landfill – this a huge missed opportunity.

Sites like Hadfield Wood Recyclers operate a nationwide service taking all grades of non-hazardous wood waste. They process it and recycle it into products including animal beddings and feedstock for panel board. Where recycling is not possible, wood waste is processed and used as fuel.

Bioenergy goals

In fact, bioenergy is expected to contribute 57% of the EU’s total renewable energy by 2020, and the use of waste and recycled wood should play an increasingly important role in the sector. Using waste wood as feedstock for power stations helps to divert material from being needlessly wasted on landfill sites, maintaining the value of waste wood as a resource and providing a sustainable source of energy.

Of course, wood should continue to be recycled and re-used wherever possible, practical and cost-efficient, before it is turned into fuel. However, the principal sources of waste wood include forestry residues, primary and sawmill processes, manufacturing and construction and other secondary processes such as the furniture, paperboard and joinery industries, demolition, industrial and commercial waste streams. Often this material has been rejected for recycling, or is unsuitable, and would otherwise likely end up in landfill.

Using wood waste feedstocks like demolition waste, mill residues and post-consumer waste further adds to the sustainability argument, particularly if those feedstocks are locally sourced. This cuts down on supply-chain emissions from collection and transport, and reduces the overall carbon footprint of the initiative.

This year, for instance, a ground-breaking waste wood biomass plant came online in East Yorkshire designed to use recycled wood as its fuel. Developer HRS says 100% of the biomass feedstock for the 22MW facility will come from sustainably sourced waste wood and reclaimed wood supplied from the surrounding region. It also says the plant was the first one built in the UK using British technology, and that it had seen a lot of interest in exporting this know-how around the world.

Collaboration for commercial viability

Making waste wood bioenergy commercially viable is certainly an achievement to celebrate – in order to successfully divert waste wood from landfill sites, a number of variables and partners from different sectors need to come together. This requires high levels of collaboration and communication. But we shouldn’t be afraid of the complexity that is required to collaborate across sectors – we should embrace the business opportunities that are presented by wood waste feedstocks.

The UK’s exit from the European Union represents an opportunity for policymakers to create a step-change in our adoption of low-carbon technologies, including biomass. Indeed, businesses, governments and trade associations have all identified the need for an increase in ‘crossover’ to truly achieve a circular economy. An integrated approach to feedstock that considers all aspects of bioenergy, from forest management to waste wood collection across industries, helps to retain the value of resources for longer and reduce irresponsible waste.

Circular economies

As we move towards the circular economy model, which sees materials form part of a complex cycle of re-use rather than a linear produce-consume-dispose model, supply chains are becoming increasingly interconnected. The waste and recycled wood bioenergy sector is a key example of the kind of business opportunities that emerge when different sectors work together to better manage resource and waste streams.

Decision-makers focussing on public sector sustainability and the circular economy need to realise that the feedstocks of the future are already being generated. Now it is just a question of having the right processes and legislation in place to allow diversion from landfill to become the most commercially viable option.

These key topics and many others will be featured at RWM 2017 (12-14 September, at the NEC in Birmingham, UK, www.rwmexhibition.com).