Is recycled timber really that bad?

A couple of weeks ago, the director of the Timber Trade Federation wrote about the desperate shortage of building materials. With unprecedented demand for timber post-lockdown and the impact of climate change with an increasing number of wildfires, it was reported that suppliers were “working around the clock” but are “struggling to keep up”.

This prompted PCA Trainer and Examiner Gervais Sawyer into thinking, “is there anything that we can do about it? And could we adopt a ‘greener’ approach in reducing our carbon footprint along the way too…?”. To find out what he has to say, simply scroll down to read more…

Not the most environmentally friendly start…

Earlier in my career, the concept of environmentalism didn’t really exist. As bad as this sounds today, cleaning your insecticide spraying equipment by flushing it all down the drain was the norm, and during the oil crisis, I kept rolling along by running my diesel on creosote. A bit smoky and needed new injectors every other week, but at the time…needs must.

Feeling smugly ‘green

As newly-weds we had to share our first home with another family. When we started our own family, the other family had to go. I gave them a glass or two of Lindane (now banned) with a Pentachlorphenol chaser (now banned) and they moved out. I jest, but the Anobium family (woodworm insects to those unaware) had done a fair bit of damage, and even though they had forfeited their deposit, it didn’t cover the cost of new joists.

Hard up newly-weds that we were, it called for a visit to the Mitcham Wood Recycling Depot. I had to remove a few nails, but I was a winner on so many counts. For example, I got durable, slow-grown pine heartwood, which was an imperial size so fitted perfectly. The weathered colour matched perfectly, and all at a fraction of the cost of new! I can now feel smugly ‘green’.

Very little structural timber gets recycled

But seriously, why not? At present our wood recycling industry has grown to over 4 millions tonnes per year. Most of this goes to making chipboard, playground surfaces, paths, animal bedding, and of course bio-fuel. The last is NOT recycling.

Very little structural timber from demolition gets recycled at present for no reason other than there being no infrastructure or demand. There are very few problems. For many PCA or construction specialists, I am sure that you would have no problem with an historic structure replacing like-for-like! The old joists would probably be old growth pine with far more durability than current plantation spruce, which is sold to you with minimal preservative treatment.

Quality used timber = carbon footprint goals

I am sure there would be a few nails to deal with. Strength grade might also be a slight problem. But if the piece is straight grained and there are no knots on the edges, you could assume C16 (softwood carcassing timber) or better. And surely, most joist and wall plate replacements are for very short spans where strength properties would be insignificant?

Now I am not saying for everyone to suddenly stop using newly cut timber for projects.  However, with the shortages in timber continuing to be a struggle in the near future, should we and could we consider other options? Is recycling suitable timber for certain jobs a bad thing? To add to that, is any consumer programme seriously going to attack you for using quality used timber rather than new?

Personally, I would not object if it meant the job was completed well and the recycled timber was suitable and safe. If anything, I would see you as the good guys (and gals) keeping carbon locked up for many a year…

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