Preserving the Planet: Treated Wood and Its Environmental Impacts

The UK timber industry is responsible for well over ten million tonnes of wood product each year, with timber being a monumentally important construction material even for contemporary domestic and commercial builds. 

Of the many products on offer with regard to timber, treated products are common and the most popular. Treated timbers enable the construction of hard-wearing and long-lasting outdoor structures, and despite their environmental impacts, they can be a sustainable option for smaller businesses. 

But what are the considerations that surround treated wood? We’ll explore this in a little more detail later in the post.

Wood Treatment Processes

When we talk about treated or tanalised timber products, we’re commonly referring to chemically treated woods that are used across a huge range of building products.

These are wood products that have been infused with pesticide and fire-retardant chemicals, in order to prevent the ingress and settlement of fungi and fauna alike. The chemical treatments used can differ from one supplier to another, but their purpose is to kill off wood-degrading creatures before they can impact on the integrity of the material. 

These chemicals can be applied to the wood in a number of ways, but pressure treatment is a common and effective route to ensuring complete impregnation of the material. The chemicals used can also improve the wood’s durability, protecting it from the risk of weakening against the elements.

Environmental Concerns

There are, naturally, some environmental concerns that arise from the use of chemicals in the treatment of natural materials, particularly where said materials are used outdoors or in nature. 

The presence of the chemical in a natural environment could pose a threat to the health of living things in the same environment over time; chemicals can leach out from the wood creating significant and deleterious consequences for the local ecosystem.

Recycling and Disposal

However, the correct usage and disposal of treated timber products can more-than offset the potential for small and localised danger that treated timbers pose to certain areas. Generally speaking, treated timbers improve structural longevity of builds, reducing the risk to human life; the following of correct processes during the build should also preclude the leaching of timber chemicals into water sources.

In terms of offcuts, or where a treated timber structure is no longer suitable for purpose, disposal also needs to be considered carefully. Technically speaking, treated timbers are classified as hazardous materials according to the type and strength of preservative with which they are impregnated. 

As such, hazardous waste facilities are utilised to accept and correctly dispose of treated wood. However, the longevity of such timber makes it an ideal candidate for recycling and re-use on future projects.

Sustainable Materials

In this way, treated timbers can be considered as something of a sustainable material. Their ability to be used time and time again reduces pressure on the timber industry, where untreated timbers with a shorter shelf-life outdoors need to be regularly replaced by new timber material. 

Of course, this doesn’t negate the obvious issues posed by chemically treated wood. The solution comes in the form of non-toxic wound treatments, such as heat and pressure treatments that avoid harmful chemicals.

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