4R material

Wood is a renewable and versatile raw material. It can be used for construction, furnishing, furniture, food handling, packaging, pallets and transport applications. At the end of its first life, wood or a wood-based product can be re-used, recycled and used as a carbon-neutral source of energy.

Reduce

There is no waste of the raw material when producing wood products, as every part of wood is used, from bark to sawdust. Material wastage is minimized due to accurate, pre-fabricated elements in factories before assembly. Leftover and low strength material can be used for engineered wood products.

Very little, if any, waste is generated during the manufacturing of timber and wood-based products, as almost all by-products are used, whether as a raw material, or as an energy source.

During the production of sawn timber, the off-cuts, wood chips and sawdust generated are used on site to produce heat and energy for the drying kilns and other operations, and off site for the production of particleboard or for the pulp and paper industry. There is also growing interest in this source of energy to fuel biomass power plants.

Reuse

Most of the wood products without severe damage and corrosion can be reused and repaired several times, significantly saving raw material.

Reclaimed wood is often highly valued

The average lifetime of wood in buildings depends on regional practices and local circumstances, like climate conditions. After many decades or even centuries of use, wooden beams can be re-used, either intact or re-sized, in new buildings, substituting for new wood or less environmentally-friendly materials.

The same is true of wooden panelling, flooring and furniture parts, which are prized in many countries for their character and patina. Some specialist companies even collect used wood in order to manufacture instruments like violins, pianos and flutes, so that they will have the same sound quality as historical pieces.

Cities are taking the initiative. One example of good practice is the city of Vienna, which has made an inventory of its urban wood resource and is actively involving industry, architects and builders in developing a strategy to optimize the life-cycle of wooden building materials and extend re-use and recycling in order to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent study demonstrated that, of 44,000 t of building and demolition wood, over half could be re-used, 6,700 t as sawn timber and 16,000 t recycled into wood-based panels.

Re-using long-life products

Hardwoods and treated timber from demolition sites are particularly valued because of their weather resistance and can be transformed into shingles, garden sheds, decking or fencing. The potential for re-using treated wood depends on the type of treatment used and on local legislation.

Re-using pallets and packaging

Wooden crates and pallets can also be re-used, with or without repair. Re-used pallets and packaging materials are beginning to be used to make garden sheds and other garden applications, while more and more furniture manufacturers are taking potential recycling into account at the design stage.

Recycle

Products and elements not suitable for reuse can be collected and reprocessed for recycling to extend their CO2 benefit and life span. Little environmental impact is generated.

Recycling is gaining impetus

Europe's annual wood consumption is estimated at 160 million tonnes (geographical Europe, excluding the CIS). Of this, 15 million tonnes is recycled every year, an amount which is expected to rise significantly, as legislation will soon prohibit using landfill for waste wood.

Further impetus for recycling wood will come from the expected European legislation on packaging waste, which will require that 15% of all wood packaging be recycled. So, even in Nordic countries, where wood raw material is abundant, a new stream of recovered wood will become available for recycling.

In recent years a number of internet-based services have been launched to support this growing trade, not just offering trading services, but complete logistic services like door-to-door transport, administrative handling, grading, sampling and analysis.

All these developments stimulate the sustainable use of wood resources and will continue to improve the environmental efficiency of its use.

Wood-based panels

The forest-based industries consider recycling to be an integral part of producing sustainable products and are constantly looking for ways to increase the recycled content of manufactured products. For instance, the proportion of sawmill by-products used in the production of particleboard has risen from 1/3 in 1970 to over 75% today.

The relative amounts of raw material used depend largely on the local availability of wood resources, but nowadays an increasing amount of post-consumer wood is recycled into wood-based panels. Some companies in Southern Europe even use up to 100% of sawmill by-products and recovered wood because of the scarcity of virgin wood.

The production of wood-based panels, including particleboard, is expected to continue to grow during the coming decades, as is the use of recovered wood.

Quality standards, placing limits on the permissable amount of impurities, are set by the European Panel Federation, with the aim of ensuring wood-based panels are safe and environmentally friendly, regardless of whether they are produced from recycled or virgin wood material. ‘EPF industry standards' are based on the European standard for the safety of toys, intended to be sucked by children.

New developments

A great deal of work is currently underway across Europe to develop new markets and new products for recovered wood, including:

  • Wood-plastic composites
  • Animal bedding (pet baskets, horse stables and riding tracks)
  • Surfacing as mulch, pathways, playground surfaces, etc.
  • Filling material for compost
  • Charcoal production.

Only high quality recovered wood can be used in these applications, in order to safeguard the health of all "consumers" involved.

Recover

Wood products and by-products of manufacturing at the end of their life can be used as a biomass fuel by recovering the energy in the wood, substituting for fossil fuels.

Wood energy is CO2 - neutral

Using wood manufacturing by-products and end-of-life wood products as a source of energy is the final link in the virtuous wood cycle. Instead of its energy being wasted in landfill, it provides a carbon neutral substitute for fossil fuels. Since it only returns to the atmosphere the CO2 that has been taken from it by the growing trees, wood combustion does not contribute to global warming or the greenhouse effect.

Wood energy is clean

Since it contains little of the sulphur or nitrogen which contributes to acid rain, and furthermore produces little ash, wood energy is clean. It reduces landfill and waste disposal costs, and any impurities from the combustion gases can be eliminated before they are released to the stack by the powerful gas cleaning systems increasingly designed in to larger power plants.

There are many sources of wood energy

Wood energy can be derived from many different sources: from forestry chips, bark, sawmill and shaving residues, to furniture manufacturing by-products and wood recovered from consumer products after use. In addition, forest residues, generated during harvesting or thinning operations are increasingly being used as a biomass energy source, not only for household heating, as was common in the past, but also for industrial heat and power generation.

In a modern CHP (Combined Heat and Power) power station, wood by-products generated during the production of 1m3 sawn timber could be transformed into 250-290 kWh electricity and 2,800-3,200 MJ thermal energy - more than the energy needed for the production of seasoned sawn timber.

The wood industries themselves are major users of wood-derived biomass energy, which currently accounts for up to 75% of the energy the industry uses for drying timber and processing panels. Traditionally this energy was generated by using wood fractions which were unsuitable for the manufacturing of end products. However, the subsidies received by power plants combusting wood biomass energy can create unfair competition between wood biomass used as a raw material and as an energy source.

Kappellbrücke, Lucerne, Switzerland
Kappellbrücke, Lucerne, Switzerland which has stood since the 14th century. Photograph by Will Pryce from the book "Architecture in Wood", © Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
Wood flows in Europe
Wood flows in Europe

 
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