A market study commissioned by Stora Enso1 reveals that over 25 million tonnes of waste wood is generated in six European markets alone – every year. About 30-35% of this comes from the construction and demolition of buildings while another 30% comes from wood processing industries: sawmills and other plants that process wood in their operations. Over 65% of this waste wood is turned into renewable energy, and while energy generation is a good method of wood disposal, governments and companies are looking for alternatives that add more value.
“As with any new endeavor, there are challenges to finding new ways to reuse and recycle wood,” says Olli Väntsi, Research and Development Manager at Stora Enso. “For example, we need investments in new technology but also the right customer base for the new products that could potentially be made with recycled wood.”
Recently, new initiatives for turning “waste wood” into a valuable raw material have been popping up everywhere.
“Part of it has to do with regulation, of course: the EU, for example, has an ambitious goal to raise the recycling rate of construction and demolition waste to 70% by the end of 2020,” says Väntsi. “But there is also a general increase in circular economy thinking around the world. Next, we need to get to a point where the emissions from recycling wood are lower than from using virgin wood, and where using recycled wood is also more profitable.”
So, how can we get there? What are the new initiatives?
Waste wood is already recycled into panel boards (30-40% of waste wood in the markets included in the market study). But in the future, it could be made into various composites or broken down to cellulose and lignin that could be made into countless fiber-based products.
“Personally, I’m most excited about future possibilities of breaking our cross-laminated timber products, or CLT, back down to laminas that could then be used to make new CLT elements or other laminated wood products,” Väntsi says. “The challenge here is that the recycled wood needs to be in just the right condition. We are working on various tools to understand how CLT, for example, ages while in use. As a fairly new product, no CLT elements have been part of a building for long enough to be recycled any time soon. But the potential is great: if we can do this, we could mass produce recycled CLT elements in the future.”
Circularity is more than reuse and recycling, of course. It is also about designing for the entire product life cycle, including material choice, which is where Stora Enso has a big advantage: we work with renewable wood that is circular by nature as it grows back in sustainably managed forests.
Circularity also offers interesting opportunities to create new service-based business models. For example, buildings can be designed so that construction elements are easily reused or recycled when the building is demolished decades later. At Stora Enso, we offer building solution manuals that support these types of life-cycle ambitions by linking architectural guidelines to building systems.
New business models can also include leasing and take-back programmes. Stora Enso’s divisions are working with customers and other partners to come up with such solutions. These models could potentially help us and our customers to take back products and commit to reusing or recycling them responsibly.
“With products like CLT, for example, there is of course the element of longevity because these construction elements might be in use for decades to come,” says Väntsi. “This means that we need to consider how we can ensure the potential take-back programme is beneficial to all parties and can be organised in an efficient and meaningful way. But the potential is there.”
1 Conducted by the Boston Consultancy Group in 2020. Markets included in the study: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and the UK.