A broader voice for biowaste

The Composting Association has rebranded and changed its name to Association for Organics Recycling. Acting chief executive Jeremy Jacobs explains the motivations behind the move

The Composting Assoc-iation was founded in 1995, as a result – at the time – of increasing interest and awareness of biowaste management. At this early stage of the industry’s development, there were no landfill directive targets driving the sustainability agenda, but there was a real desire to improve the utilisation of this valuable resource.

Since then, a great deal has happened. The sector has grown considerably, to a £100M industry (see footnote). This is predominantly driven by the collection and processing of municipal garden waste, either collected at the kerbside or from civic amenity sites. But the dynamics of the industry are rapidly changing. It is for this reason that the association is rebranding to better reflect the changing and expanding sector.

The new name – Association For Organics Recycling – reflects its core values and activities more accurately, through the coverage of a much broader spectrum of biowaste processing technologies, than the previous name. The industry has grown to a size where, in 2006-7, 3.6M tonnes (see footnote) of biodegradable waste was actively processed at biowaste management facilities. This was carried out at a combination of both small on-farm facilities and larger centralised sites.

The latter are evolving to utilise a broader range of technologies – both to comply with regulatory requirements, but also to enable them to process a wider range of inputs. Technologies include the traditional open air windrow composting of garden waste, through to the more complex and capital-intensive technologies, such as in-vessel composting and anaerobic digestion for the treatment of food and catering wastes.

Feeding demand

As a result of increased pressures on local authorities to divert biodegradable material from landfill, the processing of a wider range of feedstocks, including food and catering waste, is now being pursued with more vigour than before. Less than 2% of the 3.6M tonnes of biodegradable material processed in 2006-7 was derived from food or catering waste.

It is likely that, within the organics recycling sector, consolidation will happen as barriers to entry are lifted. This is in respect of statutory regulatory requirements, but also as sites require additional investment to comply with the processing of more demanding feedstocks.

Security of sustainable markets for compost and digestate outputs is an important aspect of biowaste management and one that continues to require significant effort. The association, in conjunction with other key stakeholders, is working hard to build confidence within end-markets, with particular emphasis being given to agriculture, where in excess of 1M tonnes of material was sent in 2006-7.

Diversion remains key driver

The most significant industry driver will be diverting biodegradable material from landfill. With continued pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the next phase of government policy is to target additional waste streams that are still ending up in landfill. The most obvious candidate here is that of food waste.

The percentage of food waste currently captured and treated is negligible. This should be seen as a real opportunity for both processors – as a significant revenue generator – and also for the local authorities as a means of assisting them in meeting their LATS targets. This is already starting to manifest itself across the UK, through additional infrastructure investment in a diverse range of processing technologies.

The collection and treatment of commercial waste streams from industrial and commercial activities have been less evident in the past, although this is changing as the landfill tax escalator starts to bite deeper. Also, certain waste types, such as liquid wastes, are less easily disposed of via the more traditional route of landfill.

These factors point to a healthy growth within the organics sector. Innovation and treatment options will continue to ensure the sector does not become complacent in its approach. The association will continue to be at the forefront of this activity, and continue to support and protect its members in order that the organics recycling industry continues to be vibrant and viable for the future.

Jeremy Jacobs is acting chief executive of the Association for Organics Recycling

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