Why recycle wood?
Trees, unlike metal, plastic, and fossil fuels, are a renewable resource. However, that doesn’t mean we have an infinite supply, or that all the trees that are felled get replaced. Despite improving standards, a proportion of wood used in the UK is sourced from non-sustainable forests, such as rainforests and privately-owned forests in the U.S. and Canada.
As well as being havens for biodiversity, such forests are known as “the lungs of the world” – absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Trees lock up vast quantities of carbon in their trunks, branches and roots – dry wood is about 50% carbon! When that wood is burned or landfilled, the carbon is released as methane or carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect – and deforestation is the second largest source of global greenhouse emissions1.
In addition, felling, transporting, processing and distributing wood requires large amounts of energy and other resources – and produces pollution. But by recycling and reusing wood, we can play a part in reducing demand for virgin timber, slowing the felling of forests, helping preserve our planet’s biodiversity – and slowing the rate of climate change.
1Forestry Commission – www.forestry.gov.uk
Wood waste in the UK
In 1992 less than 2% of waste wood generated in the UK was recycled. In 2011, more than 60% of the 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood generated was recycled in some way, most of it ending up as woodchips for MDF, mulches, surfacing, and biofuel. Increasing landfill costs and growth in the biofuel industry look set to push the figure up even further, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and recycling efforts face many challenges when it comes to disposing of wood appropriately.
Recycling vs. Reuse
Recycling is almost always better than landfill, but not all forms of recycling are equal! Community Wood Recycling aims for the highest levels of the waste hierarchy, a process for filtering waste with ‘prevention’ as the most favourable option (not throwing things away in the first place) and ‘disposal’ as the least favourable level (landfill or incineration with no energy recovery).
Community Wood Recycling is a network of independent recycling centres, coordinated by the National Community Wood Recycling Project. Although we need to balance the books, we’re not like a conventional businesses, whose main goal is profit for shareholders. The NCWRP and our members are social enterprises, primarily motivated by social and environmental, rather than financial, objectives. Whilst many need grants to cover set-up costs, or to finance big expansions, the aim is to be completely financially self-sufficient – keeping our future firmly in our own hands.
Making a difference
In addition to saving resources by reusing timber that would otherwise be wasted, community wood recycling wants to make a contribution to social change by helping those who are looking for work but who – for whatever reason – find themselves marginalised from the labour market.
We provide training and volunteering opportunities for people from all walks of life, and working with us is a perfect way to improve self-confidence and self-esteem and learn a whole range of useful transferable skills. Regardless of background, we make an effort to provide work to those who want it – including ex-offenders, those with mild mental health issues or learning difficulties, or those coming through substance abuse. Placements are unpaid, but can often lead into paid work, either within CWR or another organization which values the skills we help to build.