Looking to the land

The waste sector needs to look to agriculture if it is to create a sustainable composting industry, argues Alexander Maddan

Local authorities are now scrutinising their waste strategies to meet their LATS targets. With the diversion of biodegradable waste away from landfill becoming a strong driver, composting is popular. But the critical question is: “Can it produce a saleable product?”

In the world of composting, there is a high-profile market in areas such as horticulture, turf, land restoration, amenity use and retail. But with compost production set to rise by up to ten-fold, this market will be massively oversupplied.

To create a sustainable composting industry, the waste sector needs to look to agriculture if it is to successfully recycle the large quantities of compost that are to be produced. With a high level of organic matter and nutrients including nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and sulphur, compost is an agronomically excellent fertiliser.

At Agrivert, we see few problems in marketing the compost as a product with a revenue stream. It is a myth to assume that farmers will not pay for compost, but what LAs need to understand is what the farmers need and what is for sale. Having established sustainable agricultural markets, we recycled over 750,000 tonnes of organic fertiliser in 2005 – all sold, not given away.

But will the burgeoning compost industry saturate this agricultural outlet? Far from it. With typical application rates between 18 to 40 tonnes per hectare and 5,865,000 hectares of UK land in arable production, the arable market alone could absorb over 50 million tonnes of compost each year, and that estimate allows for a responsible fertiliser rotation.

With just over 1.2 million tonnes of finished compost now produced annually, there is still plenty of scope for finding sustainable markets for compost that will realise the true recycling potential of the compost process as a waste management tool.

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