Composting industry forges ahead with new COP

The latest composting figures spell out the significant, and increasing, impact this means of recycling is now making, as the industry also publishes its first, and long awaited, Code of Practice

The composting industry continues to flourish and diversify with the latest Composting Association survey* showing that the amount of material composted increased by 20 % between 2001/2 and 2003/4, to 1.97 million tonnes, processed at 325 composting facilities.

The development of an on-farm composting sector has led to a 49% increase in number of composting facilities since 2001/2, whilst, in the key area, markets for composted products continue to grow and diversify
Of the 1.97 million tonnes of wastes composted, 73% was household waste, 4% municipal non-household waste and 23% commercial wastes. During 2003/04, expansion of the industry focussed on garden waste, which accounted for 95% of municipal wastes composted, and virtually all household wastes composted. Despite considerable and sustained growth in particular through the on-farm composting sector, only approximately one-fifth of the estimated seven million tonnes of household garden waste arisings in the UK in 2003/04 were composted by the industry, whilst the estimated six million tonnes of kitchen wastes remained a largely untapped resource.

Chief Executive of the Composting Association, Dr Jane Gilbert, welcomed the latest survey, saying: “This report highlights how the composting industry is continuing to expand whilst demonstrating professionalism and the ability to adapt to the changing regulatory framework. The report shows a considerable growth in small, dispersed facilities during 2003/04, which are beneficial as they enable the treatment of waste near to where it is produced. This growth needs to be complemented by the development of large-scale facilities that are able to treat more difficult and greater quantities of feedstocks.”

Key role of markets

Market development has a key role to play in the long term future of the composting industry. The survey recorded the manufacture of approximately 1.2 million tonnes of composted products, of which, the largest fraction was soil conditioner (61 %), followed by mulches (16 %). Other fractions including growing media constituent and ingredients in manufactured topsoil, whilst turf dressings accounted for the remainder.

Compost products were distributed to several markets and outlets. Agriculture was both the largest and the fastest growing outlet. Around 40 % of composted product went to agriculture in 2003/04, reflecting the increase in on-farm composting facilities highlighted by the report. Some 36 % was utilised in markets with a sales value, including horticulture, landscaping and domestic gardening.

Quality assurance of composted products continues to grow as an important element of compost production, with over 850,000 tonnes of material complying with at least one independently certified standard. The utilisation of composted products in landfill engineering fell by 18% from 2001/2 and when combined with product used in land restoration combined accounted for the remaining 24 %.

Head of Organics at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Anne O’Brien, said: “The growth in the use of compost in agriculture is extremely encouraging, but as this is often a ‘free of charge’ outlet, we must continue to work hard to develop a range of sales opportunities for composters to enhance the long term commercial viability of the industry.”

Code of Practice launched

Last month also saw the launch of the eagerly awaited Composting Industry Code of Practice (CICOP)** – the first of its kind. Publication by the Composting Association was timed to mark the start of Compost Awareness Week 2005,
Following six months of consultation with members and key stakeholders, the association reports that the new Code has been widely welcomed by Ministers, regulators, civil servants and the composting industry.

Trelawney Dampney, Chairman of the Composting Association, welcomed the Code saying, “Led by the Composting Association, this Code of Practice is a significant step forward for the composting industry. Covering all areas and sizes of composting operations, it provides a platform from which the industry can continue to demonstrate its professionalism and I commend this Code to the industry.”

The Code of Practice provides a route map through the maze of legislative requirements that have to be complied with. It provides a plain English summary, of how to obtain the various authorisations, including planning permission, waste management licence (or exemption) and approval for the composting of animal by-products and catering wastes.

Central to the Code of Practice is the information and guidance given throughout on not just how to meet the regulatory requirements but also how to adopt working practices that will meet more than just the bare-bones of regulatory compliance and make a positive contribution to the development of the industry.

The Code of Practice sets a benchmark against which regulatory authorities may assess proposed operations, and in doing so may quicken the process of obtaining the relevant authorisations. In following the Code of Practice regulators, customers and the general public too will have greater confidence in the ability of the operator to run a composting facility effectively.

The information in this Code will be of relevance to operators, potential operators and regulatory decision makers, including elected members of local authorities, their officers and other professionals that issue permits and approvals that are required by composting activities.

Underpinning the Code of Practice is the “fit for intended purpose” principle. There is no “one size fits all” standard that can be applied across all composting techniques or facilities of different sizes using the same technique. The adoption of the “suitable for intended use” principle does provide a greater consistency of approach across the whole industry. Married to this concept is the risk assessment approach to site location, design and operations, including the required type and frequency of environmental monitoring.

*The State of Composting in the UK 2003/4 is free to download from the Composting Association’s website Full colour printed copies can be ordered from the Composting Association by calling 0870 1603270 – members price £15, non-members £30.

**The Composting Industry Code of Practice – ISBN 0-9547797-2-X is available to download from Printed and electronic versions of the Code of Practice are available from the Composting Association on request.

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