To recycle or not to recycle – that’s the question

Replacing fresh wood with waste wood is a growing trend which is meeting political ambition in Europe. However, the full potential of material recycling is far from achieved, argues Geminor Country Manager in Poland, Andrzej Zientarski.

The European Commission (EC) has for some time pushed to increase the circular economy within material recycling in Europe, setting a target of 65 percent by 2025. At the centre of this effort is waste wood, which predominantly is being used in the production of particle boards for the furniture and construction industries. The utilization of waste wood as a raw material in the production of particle board is growing, reaching almost 10 million tonnes in 2019, says Geminor Country Manager in Poland, Andrzej Zientarski.

– The process of implementing waste wood in a circular economy started about 15 years ago in the particle board industry. Today we experience a growing need for waste wood as a raw material feed for panel board production in Europe. Almost all panel board plants in Europe are using some volumes of waste wood (particleboard offcuts and pallets), or are in the planning process to do so. In addition, bigger plants are heavily investing in technology that cleans waste wood making it available for recycling. Hence, there is a proven potential of producing particle boards containing up to 100 percent waste wood in in the very near future, says Zientarski.

There is also a new trend emerging in the use of waste wood in Europe, says Zientarski.

– We are noticing that there is gradually more use of waste wood in the production of OSB (Oriented Strand Boards), boards that are widely used in the construction of prefabricated houses around Europe. This is a new milestone for the market and increases demand for waste wood as a raw material further, says Zientarski.

– We are seeing a new trend from the public sector in the Nordic countries. They are tendering their waste wood with a condition that it shall be utilized as feedstock for material recycling, which the panel board industry is offering. This is a step in reaching national targets for recycling.

Burning or recycling?

Today, energy and district heating plants are burning waste wood as part of the fuel mix in some of the European countries. Potentially, the energy producers and the panel board producers could be competing for the waste wood in the future. We see that the market needs both solutions to safeguard efficient recycling and recovery of all waste wood in the market. There will also be qualities in the future which needs to be treated in Energy from Waste plants, and therefore we have to see both solutions in symbiosis to allow high recycling and recovery. At the moment we see there is sufficient material available to supply both the panel board industry and the energy recovery market with sufficient feedstock, says Zientarski.

– We also see an increased focus on taxing fossil fuels in the future. This can influence fuel mixes, where wood is currently classified as a renewable source. This may cause more blending of wood into waste fuel flows, and reduce the amount of plastics in such flows. Increasing biomass content will reduce the tax burden for energy plants.

A global commodity

National market differences and political interests also affect the market. Countries such as Sweden and Finland have a surplus of fresh wood, while countries such as Poland, Spain and Italy do not. This is why we need a focus on present European and global practices in order to shape the market mechanisms, the Geminor CM argues.

– Waste used to be a local business, now it is increasingly a global one. In order to optimise the use of waste wood, we need common regulations and standards to prevent market fluctuations. This will enable fluent flows of waste wood between the countries which have limited recycling capacities to the ones with higher capacities. In addition, we must prepare for changing production and demand by storing and facilitating waste wood in the right manner, concludes Geminor Country Manager in Poland, Andrzej Zientarski.