It is estimated that global wood demand will increase up to 170% by 2050 and researchers are looking for a possible solution to cater to this demand without increasing emissions. A team of researchers from the University of Galway, Ireland, and Wooodknowledge Wales published a new study that demonstrates coordination in wood recycling can help in achieving net-zero. This study aims to propose solutions for achieving this goal through better use of waste wood.
Wood harvested from managed forests is considered an essential renewable biomaterial and has the potential benefits to reduce global warming. Yes, we all know planting trees can help to reduce global warming by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. This carbon is then stored in wood products, which can be used instead of materials like concrete and steel, resulting in reduced emissions.
A team of researchers from the University of Galway, Ireland, and Wooodknowledge Wales, along with Bangor University, did an analysis on the whole life cycle of this system. They discovered that the current utilization of wood products in the United Kingdom falls short of fully capitalizing on the potential benefits of net-zero.
Waste wood that goes to landfills accounts for only around 1% of the wood consumption. On the contrary, way too many wood products are usually burnt after their first use as biomass that produces heat and electricity. But actually, that wood could be reused or recycled into new products that will continue to store their carbon. The current system’s inefficiency leads to excessive tree harvesting, far beyond the amount needed for manufacturing new wood.
The research findings clearly demonstrate that by enhancing the utilization of waste wood products, we can achieve a significant 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, surpassing the current predominantly single-use approach. This immediate decarbonization advantage arises from the decreased demand for freshly harvested timber, while also complementing the long-term benefits of reforesting for sustainable wood production.
By integrating all these strategies, we can effectively curtail emissions by a substantial 258.8 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. To put this into perspective, it accounts for an impressive 61% of the UK’s total net territorial emissions for the year 2021.
Along with outlining how coordination in wood recycling can help in achieving net-zero, the study interviews industry leaders to find out how to realistically implement a circular model for wood use. It suggests the following points:
- Innovative modes of collaboration within the industry are needed to ensure efficient cross-sector coordination.
- Comprehensive and enforceable policies for government intervention are required, such as mandatory deconstruction plans for buildings.
- Manufacturers must take on the responsibility of maximizing the benefits of slowing global warming by ensuring proper usage and reuse of their products.
The Ph.D. researcher at Bangor University and lead author of the study, Eilidh Forster, commented, “The U.K. is currently able to produce only a fraction of the wood it requires, yet recovered wood ‘waste’ is an under-valued resource. Improved transparency, reporting and management of recovered wood could create a multitude of circular business opportunities.”
Co-author and Professor of Forest Sciences at Bangor University, John Healey, emphasized that, “Planting new production forests to meet future wood demand is a very important priority for achieving net-zero, however it will take several decades for this benefit to be realized, and we can’t afford to wait that long to reduce the current rate of global warming. Therefore, we also need to act urgently to increase the efficiency with which we reuse current wood products to reduce the pressure that we are placing on global forests to meet our needs.”
Associate professor in Agri-sustainability at the University of Galway and co-author of the study, David Styles explained, “To substantially increase the efficiency of the whole system will require some significant changes in the wood-using industries in the U.K., backed-up by better-targeted government policies, to substantially improve their co-ordination from afforestation to better wood recovery and reuse.”
Chief executive of Woodknowledge Wales and co-author of the study Gary Newman, noticed that “Moving to a circular economy is difficult but absolutely essential if we are to meet both our future decarbonization targets and our future resource needs. This paper shows the size of the win and makes practical suggestions for how we might get there. Woodknowledge Wales is an experiment in the kind of cross-sector coordination advocated by this research.”