Composting could rise to the top of the heap as it loses waste stigma
Compost is set to be legally classified as a resource, not waste, and this tiny piece of linguistic chicanery could have a profound impact on the industry.
This week the Environment Agency and the Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP) opened consultation on their Quality Protocol on Waste proposals.
In a nutshell, the protocol would set standards for the industry which, if met, would mean compost produced would no longer be considered waste.
“It’s about removing the regulatory burden,” an EA spokesperson told edie.
“At the moment compost counts as waste, but if this is adopted and people follow the protocol it will be classed as compost instead.”
This is not a simple argument about semantics, however – if compost created from waste ceases to be considered waste, those making, moving and storing it will no longer be required to have waste storage and transfer licences which means savings on both costs and administration.
The protocol would also serve as a kind of kitemark, which would allow companies creating compost which met the standards to demonstrate to potential customers that their product was as good as any other on the market.
A spokesperson for the Composting Association told edie that if everything panned out as expected this was an extremely positive step for composting.
“It should help the industry grow as it provides clarity on issues to do with the definition of waste,” he said.
“People will know what they’ve got and what they’re getting and that will increase trust in the product.”
He said scrapping the need for licences would also bring benefits.
“There’s a cost attached to all these licences, in terms of both time and money.”
Jane Gilbert, chief executive of the Composting Association said compost’s status in law as waste had long been debated and it was heartening to see a change could be imminent.
“We are extremely happy to see progress on the important issue of compost quality. Our members are concerned about this issue and we are pleased to see that there is movement at last. This has had a negative impact on our members’ businesses and created uncertainty which has stopped the composting industry from developing to its full potential,” she said.
“This is a complex subject and one that the association has prioritised for years. We have raised the issue with politicians, ministers and officials at every opportunity and we are delighted that there is finally some movement.
“We can’t pretend that there is a quick or simple solution to the issue but we feel that, if implemented properly, this should help the composting industry enormously and provide some clarity on this difficult issue.”
The EA spokesman told edie that initially the changes would be of most interest to the food production and retailing industry, as well as the composting companies themselves, but would become increasingly relevant to local authorities as green waste collection schemes became more commonplace.
Tricia Henton, the Environment Agency’s director of environment protection said: “Over the next decade we need to divert up to 11 million tonnes of food, plant and other types of biowaste from landfill and more composting will help us achieve this. However, we want to ensure that quality compost is produced wherever possible to add value to our soil.
“The aim is that by following standards in the Quality Protocol for Compost, businesses will no longer have to class the compost they produce as waste. This reduces the need to comply with waste regulations, helping to reduce costs without compromising the environment we are here to protect.”
WRAP’s director of organics Richard Swannell added: “One of the key findings of the costs and benefit assessment carried out to develop the Quality Protocol is that it is likely to help the composting industry save over £1.20 for each tonne of compost they produce.
“At present over 2.5m tonnes of compost is produced by the industry each year. We believe that once the Quality Protocol has been adopted, there will be an increase in the amount of quality compost being produced.”
The Quality Protocol sets out control procedures for the production and use of quality compost from source segregated biowaste like food and garden plant waste.
It will provide business and industry with clarification on when compost produced from biowaste can be considered to be fully recovered from a waste into a compost.
Once recovered, the compost will no longer be subject to further waste regulations.
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