Wood Recycling

Hoping to find out more about wood recycling?

Sources of Waste Wood

A study by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that the following sources contribute substantially to wood waste in a particular area:

  • Municipal waste -- when households dispose of wood products like furniture, DIY wood waste, wood packaging.
  • Industrial and commercial waste -- waste from manufacturers of furniture, construction materials (e.g. doors, floorboards, etc), wood packaging, etc.
  • Construction and demolition waste -- leftover structural timber that cannot be used, wood packaging for construction materials, etc from the Construction industry; torn down structural wood (e.g. floorboards, staircases, doors, etc) or unwanted furniture (e.g. built-in cabinets) from the Demolition industry.
The Environmental Resources Management (ERM) estimated that the United Kingdom produces about 7.5 million tonnes of such waste wood annually. And yet only about 16 to 20% of this waste wood arisings are being reused, recycled or channeled for energy recovery through incineration.

This means that the remaining 6 tonnes of waste wood lands up in the landfills in UK every year. And this massive amount of wood waste has not yet taken into account the amount of wood that is being discarded and wasted all over the world (it seems that the UK contribute to about 3% the world's wood consumption).

The large amount of waste wood discarded in landfills is problematic for several reasons. Landfills contribute substantially to land, water and air pollution. It also costs (communities, governments, etc) to dispose of waste in landfills.

At the same time, the demand for wood all over the world is increasing, and large areas of primary forest lands are being cut down to meet this rising world need for more timber. And such large-scale deforestation practices are also contributing to environmental problems like soil erosion, increasing green house gasses, wildlife extinction, etc.

Instead of being reused or recycled so that fewer trees need to be cut down to meet the world’s timber needs, the waste wood are left rotting in the landfills instead. What a pity.

Uses for Recycled Wood

Wood recycling produces recycled wood, which in turn has many uses.

Slightly more than a decade ago, most of the recycled wood was channeled to panel board mills for the manufacture of chipboard, middle-density fibreboard (MDF) and higher value fibreboard. In turn, these chipboard and fibreboard products were then used in construction, furniture manufacture and DIY. In recent years, new consumers for recycled wood appeared. They are known as the “added value” markets for wood recyclers.

Examples of these “added value” markets include manufacturers of landscaping products and equine surfaces, as well as producers of animal and poultry bedding. Some of the waste wood may also be made into woodchips for forest tracks, or wood pellets for surfaces of footpaths in parks.

Recycled wood has the advantage of a lower moisture content (i.e. about 20%) as compared to virgin wood (about 60% to 70%). This means that for the same weight of wood purchased, you are paying for less moisture when it comes to recycled wood. The lower moisture content also mean higher durability.

With improvements in technology, wood recycling plants are increasing in efficiency and cost-effectiveness in their recycling process. The newer machineries (e.g. wood shredders) are able to handle large quantities of waste wood in the same time. The removal of contaminants (e.g. nails) is also becoming automated as well more effective; the effective removal of contaminants from the waste wood helps to improve the quality of the recycled wood produced.

There is also an emerging market for recycled wood chip as a form of renewable fuel. Recycled wood has potential as a good bio-fuel, since it is drier than its alternative – sawmill chips.

Challenges Ahead

Despite the value in wood recycling, the process is not without challenges.

The various uses of recycled wood mentioned above generally require the recycled wood to be from uncontaminated timber (e.g. wood that has not been treated with preservatives, painted, etc). As such, the majority of wood waste that is being recycled currently comes from wood packaging waste or “clean residue” from wood processing.

Unfortunately, much of the waste wood from the construction and demolition industries, some of the main producers of waste wood, is not recycled but is instead discarded. This is because construction and demolition wood waste is of mixed quality and is often contaminated. Hence, it is considered more “dirty” and less often recycled.

The process of wood recycling for construction or demolition waste is very much labor and time intensive. For example, there is a need to sort out the reusable wood pieces from the non-reusable ones, and the contaminants need to be removed, etc. To facilitate the recycling process, the construction and demolition processes also have to take place in such a way so as to preserve as much of the wood as possible.

This may mean more time and effort in terms of design, labor planning, and construction or demolition. There might need to be major mindset shifts and technological shifts if there are to be improvements in the rate of timber recycling by the construction and demolition industries.

The challenge in wood recycling does not only lie in the rate at which waste wood is being recycled. There might also be a challenge in finding demand for waste wood (demand for recycled products is just as important as the effort to recycle unwanted materials).

When it comes to the demand for recycled wood for construction project, there is a stigma associated with “used” wood – these construction materials are often perceived as as of “lower quality” or “more dirty” as compared to virgin wood. The lower price of these recycled wood supplies somehow further reinforces this idea that recycled wood is “inferior”.

Besides the stigma, designers and builders probably find it easier to make use of the standard sized new wood planks for their building projects, as compared to recycled wood that may come in odd sizes and shapes (depending on their source). The supply of recycled wood for the numerous construction projects taking place at any one time may also be unreliable – it depends on the rate of waste wood being recycled, and the quantity of recycled wood that arise from the recycling process.

Similarly, it would take much mindset shifts and technological advancements for recycled wood to be more widely accepted and sought after for construction projects.

Support for Timber Recycling

Fortunately, the wood recycling industry is not left to sink or swim alone.

Agencies like the Government Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in UK provide assistance to help this still relatively immature sector develop.

For example, WRAP gives grants for innovations by individual companies, undertakes several initiatives aimed at increasing the rate of wood recycling, as well as provide crucial information and data on the pattern of material flow and markets for wood. Some of the completed projects by WRAP include the establishment of Standards and Specifications for recycled wood, and an internet-based programme to help recyclers locate wood recycling facilities in UK.

There is also the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) in UK, which was set up in 2001 to represent the interest of the wood recycling members to the UK governments and regulatory authorities, and environmental agencies. WRA produced the Wood Recyclers' Code of Practice that seeks to raise standards in business operations, quality, environmental and health and safety standards in this industry. The WRA is also a part of the Recycling Industries Alliance that deals with major issues affecting the recycling industry.

Where to send your unwanted wood

Check out the recycling collection centres that take in unwanted wood waste.

Recycling Wood for a Social Cause

A timber recycling agency worth knowing about is the National Community Wood Recycling Project (NCWRP).

NCWRP is an environmental social enterprise that seeks to give a new lease to life to waste wood through recycling, at the same time provide a source of sustainable jobs for the local population, especially the “disadvantaged” who might have difficulties finding employment in the community.

Through the recycling of wood, the organization helps to reduce wood waste and save wood resources. The profit made from the provision of the recycling services and the sale of recycled wood is in turn channeled into training and providing jobs for its beneficiaries. With the help of volunteers, NCWRP create jobs for these people in wood recycling, and helps them acquire self-confidence and transferable work skills.

The project actually shares valuable knowledge about community wood recycling with those who are interested in setting up a similar recycling social enterprise in their community.

Where To Send Waste Wood
For Recycling?

If you take in waste wood (e.g. old furniture, wood packaging, construction wood waste, etc) for recycling, I would love to share your service with my readers.

Anyone intending to get ride of their waste wood will definitely find your service information very useful.

Please share with us the following details:
- location of waste wood collection centre(s)
- type / condition of waste wood that would be rejected/accepted by collection centre(s)
- any fees incurred / reimbursement given for using the recycling service
- any additional service(s) provided (e.g. free transportation of waste wood to collection centre)
- contact(s) for queries

Note that regrettably, we are unable to provide links to external webpages.

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