By Julia Turner, Executive Director, Wood Recyclers’ Association
AS winter approaches, we always expect to see a growth in demand for waste wood. Cold weather drives up demand for biomass fuel to produce energy as well as demand for products such as animal bedding.
However, this year a number of factors – ranging from high energy prices to the cost of living crisis – mean that supply could be tighter than ever before, making it critical that we make the most of our waste wood.
At a recent meeting of the European Waste Wood Group in Sweden, I heard how high demand for alternative forms of energy to replace gas has seen operators in many European countries experiencing shortages of waste wood, with prices going up for all grades. This trend has also been reported by some big European players who have reported very high prices being paid for material, with some biomass operators being forced to seek out alternative fuels.
Thankfully, no shortages have yet been reported in the UK. But there are a number of reasons the market could become particularly tight as the nights draw in.
To begin with, waste wood demand has been gradually catching up with supply. Our latest waste wood statistics show that over 4.1 million tonnes of waste wood were sent for processing in the UK last year out of the 4.5 million tonnes arising.
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine, as in Europe, has significantly affected energy markets, creating more requirement for waste wood fuel from UK operators and from the export market. This means that what little waste wood excess there was last year is likely to be used up.
With the economy struggling, there are also concerns among recyclers that the cost of living crisis and economic downturn will start to limit waste wood supply as consumers spend less and manufacturing slows down.
With these powerful market forces at play, it is more important than ever to ensure that the waste wood is separated out and recycled or, where this is not possible, used to generate domestic biomass energy.
This means that, more than ever, it is paramount that no material is sent to landfill, where it creates damaging methane emissions. With Guy Fawkes Night just around the corner, it is also important not to burn waste wood on bonfires, where it can create harmful pollution. The export of waste wood also needs to be carefully considered. As we now have markets for all our 4.5 million tonnes of domestic waste wood, it is ideally used in the UK, unless there is a particular market need to export material.
If we are careful in how we manage this precious resource, we can continue to play a critical role in the circular economy and contribute to UK energy security at a time when it matters the most.