The Wood Recyclers’ Association has warned that the UK could be facing a shortage of waste wood next winter.

The Association’s chair, Andy Hill, said that last winter (2017 into 2018) had seen the first real scarcity of waste wood in the UK caused by a combination of higher demand and unusually long and cold winter.

Andy Hill said last winter had seen the first real scarcity of waste wood in the UK

He warned that if waste wood operators continue to face delays in receiving Fire Prevention Plans (FPP) and Environmental Permits, next winter could see demand outstripping the amount available for supply.

“We are now approaching a normal summer period, and people are beginning to build up stocks again,” he explained.

Mr Hill added: “But we had a very long winter which created a real scarcity of waste wood despite the fact very few of the new biomass plants are currently operational.”

Market development

Many biomass plants across the UK are beginning to enter commissioning, with many due to be operational this year. Each of these has contracts with suppliers for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste wood.

Mr Hill explained that it is “critical” the Environment Agency understands how the market has developed, while also getting to a point where FPPs are granted when needed.

“If the Environment Agency doesn’t get to the point where it can grant FPPs and permits to waste wood operators there is a real danger there will be a shortage of material both for the biomass plants and existing markets including panel board,” he stated.
“It’s now critical that the EA appreciates how the market has developed. Regulation needs to evolve and be fit for purpose to ensure its needs can be met.

“I urge the EA to recognise this step change; many reprocessors have invested heavily in fire detection equipment, and if they can show contractually that they have the off-take for stocks built through the summer, the EA should be granting them permits now to ensure a smooth supply profile for the winter months.”

Next winter could see demand for waste wood outstripping the amount available for supply

Fire Prevention Plan

Defra is currently examining a draft fire prevention plan which the WRA developed and submitted. If approved, it will enable operators in the sector to more easily gain standard and non-standard FPPs from the EA.

Any operator handling combustible material for recycling or reprocessing needs to obtain an approved FPP to be granted an Environmental Permit.

Companies setting up new sites, requiring new permits or who have experienced a fire are the first in line to be required to gain the new FPPs.