Environment Agency recommends strategy for agri-waste management

The Environment Agency, in collaboration with a variety of agricultural groups, has put together its recommendations for a strategy for managing waste from agriculture in order to bring it in line with other sectors of industry, required under the European Waste Framework Directive.

Agriculture processes an estimated total of half a million tonnes of waste per year, including packaging, plastic films, animal health products, and machinery and building waste, according to the Environment Agency. Current waste management practices include on-farm burning, burial, stockpiling and the use of household waste collection services.

The European directive is designed to ensure that waste is disposed of in a manner that does not harm the environment or human health, and will affect all of the UK’s farming community. However, until now, agriculture has been exempt from the directive as its waste has been excluded from the definition of ‘controlled waste’ by the UK Government. Now, however, the Government faces infraction proceedings from Europe over the matter, forcing a change in the situation.

Recommendations in the Agency’s report include the suggestion for the development of a national agriculture waste strategy, the establishment of a code of practice for on-farm options for waste management, research into practical cost-effective arrangements for waste collection, and an emphasis on waste reduction through improved product design and farming practices. The Agency also recommends a national stakeholder forum on agricultural waste, with one of its aims to break down barriers of communication between the agricultural community and Government authorities, Cormac Quigley, an Agency Waste Policy Advisor told edie. However, the form that this will take has not yet been decided. “We’re very much in the formative stage of putting this together,” said Quigley.

Fortunately for farmers, manure and other natural, non-dangerous substances used on farms for agricultural benefit, are not covered by the directive according to the Governments interpretation of it. Farmers carrying waste as an incidental part of their businesses will also be exempt from having to register as waste carriers.

“We want to work with farmers and other key stakeholders to implement the forthcoming agricultural waste controls in a sensible and proportionate way so that the environment is protected and farmers can still run their businesses effectively,” said Head of Waste Policy at the Environment Agency, Steve Lee.

“Through advice and encouragement, we will help farm businesses minimise their waste, save money and protect and enhance the environment,” said Lee. “We see the publication of the research report and the development of a stakeholder forum as key elements to help us achieve this.”

However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) is concerned about any additional pressure that will be put on agriculture and horticulture. “All concerned with these regulations must strive to ensure that where controls are necessary, they are proportionate to the risks,” said Vice President of the NFU Michael Paske. “We see our role as helping to find realistic and least-cost solutions to the problem of agricultural waste and we seek to play an active part in the National Agricultural Waste Stakeholder Forum.”

Copies of the report, Towards Sustainable Agricultural Waste Management, are available from the Environment Agency on 0845 933 3111. Alternatively, write to Public Enquiry Unit, Environment Agency, Rio House, Waterside Drive, Almondsbury, Bristol BS32 4UD, or email [email protected].

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