As a regulator, we want to make sure that [waste wood] is being classified correctly, according to the existing rules, so it is disposed of safely, protecting people and the environment…..Everyone in the waste chain has a responsibility to describe and check it properly so that waste wood ends up in the right place.”[1]

As the Environment Agency ("EA") extends the Regulatory Position Statement ("RPS") on waste wood until 31 July 2020[2] to allow completion of the waste wood classification project, we consider the proposals further and the potential implications for the waste wood industry.

What is the waste wood classification project?

The waste wood classification project is an industry led project headed by the Wood Recycling Association ("WRA").

The project first began in the autumn of 2017 following concerns raised by the EA that potentially hazardous timber waste was being wrongly processed and that the correct testing and assessment of such waste was not taking place. These concerns were prompted by the European Commission, which asked why only 2% of waste wood in the UK was classified as hazardous whilst other EU countries classified up to 15% of waste wood as hazardous[3].

The objectives of the project are:

  • To define "hazardous" wood;

  • To identify best practise for "front-end" assessment; and

  • To develop and implement a Code of Practice.

To define "hazardous" wood the WRA has been collecting and testing 500 samples from mixed waste wood from household waste recycling centres, waste transfer stations and waste wood processors.

Once the sampling process has been completed the Project Team will develop two separate sets of guidance for operators, with the WRA drafting guidance for the wood industry and the National Federation of Demolition Contractors ("NFDC") drafting guidance for the demolition sector.

The guidance will include a visual guide detailing how to classify each waste wood item into:

  • Clean and untreated;

  • Treated but non-hazardous; or

  • Treated and hazardous.

The hope is that the guidance will enable all operators to be able to easily identify hazardous waste wood at source prior to any processing. This should allow operators to correctly and legally manage the waste as well as providing risk and cost certainty as they will be aware of what is hazardous and in need of disposal and that which is non-hazardous and can be correctly recycled.

What is the RPS?

The RPS - "Classifying waste wood from mixed waste wood sources" - is an interim position agreed between the EA and WRA pending the completion of the waste wood classification project and was issued shortly after the commencement of that project.

It applies to business which:

  • produce waste wood;

  • transport waste wood;

  • keep waste wood;

  • process waste wood;

  • control waste wood;

  • use waste wood; or

  • dispose of waste wood.

The RPS allows for treated or mixed waste wood, which could be classified as hazardous or non-hazardous and has not been assessed and classified in line with the hazardous waste technical guidance, to continue to be classified as non-hazardous. However, this only applies to waste wood destined for:

  • An Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) Chapter IV compliant permitted incinerator or co-incinerator; or

  • The manufacture of board.

If an operator wishes to use mixed waste wood for any other purpose they must:

  • Assess and classify in line with the hazardous waste technical guidance[4] before the waste is moved from the premises where it is held/produced; and

  • Demonstrate that any waste derived from it is derived solely from waste wood inputs that have been assessed and classified.

The RPS does not apply to any waste wood known to be hazardous and classified as such, including:

  • Railway sleepers;

  • Telegraph poles;

  • Wood treated with creosote.

After 31 July 2020 all unassessed waste wood must be classified as hazardous.

What is the current status of the sampling?

The WRA is now over half way through the sampling process of the wood received from household waste recycling centres, waste transfer stations and waste wood processors and the results are coming back as expected with less than 1% of material showing a hazardous content.

Additionally, the WRA (supported by the NFDC) recently made an urgent appeal to demolition companies for waste wood samples from the demolition of buildings built before 2007 to add to the sampling programme[5]. The WRA has warned of a “potential crisis” – which could cost the demolition sector more than £100 million a year – if more waste wood samples are not submitted for hazardous testing[6]. The WRA and the NFDC are looking for samples of structural timbers, tilling battens and external joinery to test for their potential hazardous content.

Engagement from demolition companies in this process is key as, without appropriate testing taking place, the EA will assume that all demolition waste wood from this period is hazardous and it will be up to the contractor to either provide evidence to the contrary or pay additional fees to send the material for energy recovery in specialist incinerators.

Julia Turner, the WRA’s Executive Director who is leading the project, said: “If the demolition contractors don’t actively engage with us now and allow the testing of these specific waste wood items to take place, it will have a catastrophic effect on the whole industry and indeed environment by increasing hazardous disposal.

We know there is actually less hazardous material in the demolition sector based on the chemical wood treatments applied at that time, than any of us originally believed. However, if we don’t prove what is hazardous now, the demolition sector will be left footing the bill to prove it themselves on a job-by-job basis.”

What is the future of waste wood classification?

It is expected that there could be a significant increase in the amount of material classified as hazardous, bringing the UK more in line with other European countries. However, there are concerns that the changes could be catastrophic for UK wood recycling rates, potentially reducing recycling by up to six per cent a year[7].

The plan to implement guidance prior to the withdrawal of the RPS should give operators time to familiarise themselves with the new processes to ensure compliance going forwards, thereby minimising disruption to those operating in the industry.

Julia Turner said the following on the RPS extension:

This extension will also allow us to finish the sampling and give us plenty of time to embed any required changes to waste wood classification within our industry and with the regulators ahead of the RPS being withdrawn next July.”[8]