More plants needed to keep compost from landfill

Martin Grundon, managing director of West London Composting, writes about the first twelve months of running a cutting edge composting facility and predicts the need for 200 similar sized sites if the UK is to divert 6m tones of biodegradable waste from landfill by 2010.

It is well over twelve months since Martin Grundon invested £3 million to set-up one of the UK’s largest in-vessel composting centres.

During this time the company has secured long-term agreements with five local authorities including the London Boroughs of Brent, Hillingdon and Harrow, Spelthorne Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council.

As well as currently in advanced negotiations with a number of other London boroughs, it has also been selected by the AERC (Applied Environmental Research Centre) as a preferred site for carrying out a new trial involving passing leachate through a wetland system in a bid to provide a non-toxic substance that can be disposed of into watercourses.

If successful, it could become the de-facto standard throughout the composting industry for treating leachate in place of the energy and chemically intensive processes used today.

Currently licensed to process 50,000 tonnes of green, kerbside and catering waste per year, WLC now produces 30,000 tonnes of compost – a 10mm general compost which is ideal as a soil conditioner or for blending with soils and sands and increasingly being used by landscape gardeners and nurseries, and a coarser 25mm grade product for use in agriculture.

What is particularly exciting from WLC’s perspective is the growing amount of interest expressed by local authorities in buying back the composted material for use in their parks and grounds.

In fact Martin Grundon predicts that the UK would need 200 similar-sized sites such as his – with London alone requiring some 30 facilities – in order to divert the six million tonnes of biodegradable waste from landfill by 2010, as stipulated by the Government.

With recycling high on the national curriculum agenda, WLC is also planning to open an interactive learning resource centre at the site for schools and colleges in the near future.

The privately-owned facility, which officially opened its gates in July 2004, is successfully doing what it set out to do and working with local authority partners to help meet the Government’s ambitious recycling targets by turning organic household waste to compost.

For example, the London Borough of Hillingdon (WLC’s first partner) positioned second in the recycling league table for London in the period 2003/2004, sent 11,750 tonnes of green kerbside waste from 92,000 households together with waste from one of its civic amenity sites to WLC for composting in 2004/2005.

It forecasts the WLC facility has saved the borough £0.5 million in 2004/2005 and anticipates cost-savings will continue to increase as landfill tax continues to rise.

Martin Grundon is a great believer that we need take responsibility for improving our environment if not for ourselves but for future generations to come.

Keen therefore to promote composting as a manufacturing rather than waste industry, in support of the recent International Compost Awareness Week, WLC worked with its local authority partners for a second year running, hosting several compost give-away days for residents within each borough.

Residents were encouraged to visit a site to bag and collect supplies of WLC’s 10mm compost for use on their plants, shrubs and trees.

This highly successful initiative was to explain the importance of recycling and demonstrate what happens to garden and kitchen waste on collection from their homes.

Each resident was provided with a FAQ sheet explaining the recycling process.

Establishing the business was not an overnight decision though. It followed a period of extensive research by Martin Grundon and a detailed study in to technologies and best-practice adopted across Europe.

For example, once at the site, local authority refuse collection vehicles are weighed on a weigh-bridge before being directed to one of three bays in WLC’s purpose-built reception building.

Waste material is tipped in to a pit – one of the innovations adopted by other European countries, and designed to stop people wandering around the building.

The material is subsequently processed in a slow-speed shredder before being transported to one of eight vessels (each holds 150 tonnes) that comprise barrier one. It remains in this controlled environment between seven and 11 days, during which time the batch will have achieved a temperature of 60ºC for two consecutive days, inline with Government guidelines.

The material is then transferred to barrier two (comprising eight further vessels), and the process is repeated, before being transported to an open-windrow composting facility where it remains for up to 10 weeks, depending on the end-market requirement.

West London Compost

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