There's a lot more to wood recycling than shredding, screening and grinding. The state of wood recycling continues to evolve, according to Jim Donaldson, CEO of the Alberta-based Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group (CWWR). Practices are well established in the forest industry for converting sawmill residuals into fibre applications such as pulp and paper and waste-to-energy, but overall, the development of wood recycling in Canada is still in its infancy.
According to Donaldson, wood recycling industry infrastructure in Europe is much more advanced. In North America, factors such as the relatively cheap availability of virgin timber and the acceptance of wood by landfills have slowed the momentum for wood recycling industry growth. Interest has continued to grow, however. The increasing corporate pursuit of zero-waste-to-landfill programs has helped, as have sustainability practices emerging in the construction industry to promote recycling. In some regions, including Metro Vancouver, a landfill ban on clean wood instituted on July 1, 2016 has significantly boosted recycling efforts.
Donaldson adds that available statistics related to wood waste recycling in Canada are minimal, which makes the growth of the industry more difficult to track. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) estimated that unrecovered wood debris in the country's MSW and CR&D waste streams amounts to roughly 1.75 million metric tons annually, or about 7 percent of the unrecovered waste stream, according to a 2013 report.
Changing Perspectives on Wood Recycling
Recent research from the Technical University of Munich supports the idea that the sustainability case for wood is improved through "cascading use." This concept refers to the practice of recovering wood for the next most valuable alternative. Such an approach reduces the carbon footprint impact at each stage of use due to the availability of recycled material, which is much less carbon-intensive to produce. Examples would include lumber which can be reclaimed for reuse or, in the next phase, unusable lumber that can be converted into chips for chipboard. Waste-to-energy is a last resort for wood recycling, yet it remains by far the most popular form of diversion from landfill.