Compost community furious over Defra’s eleventh hour U-turn

The Compost Association has spoken of its exasperation over constantly moving goalposts after Defra scrapped waste plans that had taken five years to draw up just hours before they were due to come into effect.

Under new Waste Managing Licensing Exemptions, which came into force on July 1, composting sites were set to be one of six areas that could apply for an exemption.

But on June 30 Defra announced a change of plan, with Local Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw saying there was a ‘real need’ for further assessment of the environmental impact of composting.

“Increasing the amount of organic waste composted is one of our key objectives, as such we want to encourage the growth of the community composting sector,” he said.

“Nevertheless, composting does pose a risk to the environment and human health.

“We have therefore decided to reconsider this exemption for composting to ensure that the revised controls reduce this risk, whilst fulfilling our aim of encouraging composting.”

He said existing legislation from 1994 would remain in place while Defra assessed the situation.

But Tony Breton, spokesman for the Compost Association, said the ongoing uncertainty made members reluctant to invest in infrastructure which would be required to meet landfill diversion targets.

Ironically, by making these changes the costs to the community sector seem likely double, he argued.

Under the existing composting exemption, all compost must be used on-site so cannot be sold on and a land-spreading exemption is required.

But the cost of a land-spreading exemption is £546, a prohibitive amount for smaller composters.

Dr Jane Gilbert chief executive of the Composting Association said: “This U-turn is another example of how difficult it is for the composting industry to plan strategic investments running into millions of pounds when goal posts are being moved continually.

“Composters across England and Wales have been working with local authorities to help them meet their LATS targets on the basis that the legislation had been agreed.

“This announcement has once again left the industry and stakeholders in a state of confusion and we will be seeking a meeting with the Minister at the earliest opportunity to discuss this matter.”

Mr Breton told edie: “Nobody is complaining about the legislation, we’re all very happy with it and we agree it has the potential to stop sham waste recovery.
“But what needs to be addressed is the fee banding.

“I’ve had numerous calls from members already saying they have invested in concrete pads and other requirements in readiness for this exemption and now they don’t know what will happen.

“It makes things very difficult for the industry – it’s impossible for us to plan ahead.

“We need to have a level playing field where professionals are on the same footing as community composters.”

By Sam Bond

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