Waste Strategy backs increased composting

The Government lists composting high on its priority list of measures to boost recycling aimed at reducing the UK's heavy reliance on landfill for the disposal of household waste and meeting new tough waste reduction targets.

Composting has been given a considerable boost as a favoured recycling method to help the Government meet its ambitious targets to reduce dramatically the percentage of the UK’s refuse going to landfill.

Waste Strategy 2000, the recently published Waste Strategy for England and Wales, sets out the means by which the UK could meet the commitment to cut landfill of biodegradable waste by around two-thirds by 2020.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher, launching the new strategy, gave a high priority to recycling and composting more waste.

The Government’s backing for recycling, and specifically composting, could not be better timed for the recently revitalised the Composting Association, which just launched its Standards for Composts.

The new Waste Strategy, which was published jointly by the DETR and the National Assembly for Wales, states that “a substantial increase in recycling and composting lies at the heart of developing a more sustainable system of waste management.”

The Government is setting statutory targets for local authorities in England and Wales to recycle or compost at least 25% of household waste by 2005. It is proposed that there should be different standards for different groups of authorities in recognition of differing local circumstances.

The Government aims to set standards for 2003 at the following levels:

  • Waste Disposal Authority areas with 1998/99 recycling and composting rates of under 5%, to achieve at least 10%
  • Waste Disposal Authority areas that recycled or composted between between 5% and 15% in 1998/99 to double their recycling rate
  • the remaining Waste Disposal Authority areas to recycle or compost at least one third of household waste.

Part 2 of Waste Strategy 2000, states: “Composting in England and Wales is a growing industry, and is acquiring greater significance as a waste management option.”

The publication reports that, in May 1999, the Composting Association conducted its second annual survey to assess the state of the composting industry in the UK. The results showed the progress made by the industry but highlighted the need to increase composting capacity to meet the Landfill Directive targets.

The Survey indicated that there were 89 facilities operating in 1998, most of which were in England, composting a total of just over 900,000 tonnes, 59 of which were centrally run sites, composting a total of over 800,000 tonnes. The remainder comprised eleven community operations, nine on-farm sites, nine on-site facilities and one miscellaneous site.

A comparison with the Composting Association’s survey results for 1997 and 1998 suggested that the quantities of organic wastes composted at centralised across the UK in 1998 increased significantly (by over 500,000 tonnes). The survey also indicated that approximately 600,000 tonnes of municipal was composted in 1998, of which about two thirds (approximately 400,000) comprised household waste. The majority (92%) of municipal waste comprised green wastes collected from civic amenity sites or local authority parks and gardens, with only 7% or organic municipal wastes collected at the kerbside.

The Strategy says: “If the composting industry is to meet the challenge of the Landfill Directive for municipal biodegradable waste, current capacities for composting this waste will need to be expanded significantly over the next decade. The increase will need to be even larger is the material deemed suitable for composting includes 50% of the paper and cardboard fraction.”

The publication also says that garden waste, either from local authority parks or from civic amenity sites, makes up over 90% of all municipal waste composted. “It will be critical,” the Strategy says,”to expand the amount of compostible waste collected at the kerbside in order to meet the targets of the Landfill Directive.”

A significant increase in kerbside collection was on of the range of measures announced by Michael Meacher.

Another key objective for the Government and the National Assembly is to increase the amount of organic material in the waste stream that is composted. The retail sector has a major role to play. Some of the large supermarket chains are already running composting trials.

The document also points out that compost for use in growing food crops is a form of closed loop recycling, and, if the compost is made to an appropriate standard, its use in agriculture will provide a reliable market for bulk quantities of processed organic wastes. It will also have a wide geographic spread, which would encourage the establishment of local composting units.

The Strategy also supports home composting, seen as “a good opportunity for the householder to take responsibility for the organic fraction of their waste and provides an effective way of diverting from landfill.”

Composting standards

Under the Composting Association’s Standards for Compost initiative, which is supported by the Hanson Environment Fund, a voluntary registration scheme has been devised through which producers can demonstrate that their compost has been produced, sampled, tested and identified (labelled) according to a standard set of criteria. Minimum compost quality requirements are included.

Producers registered with the certification scheme administered by the Composting Association will provide details of feedstocks accepted, how these are composted to achieve sanitisation and consistent characteristics, and product storage arrangements. Each compost production system registered with the scheme will be inspected to that agreed procedures are being routinely followed and that sufficient materials management and monitoring records are kept.

Compost sampling must be carried out according to a specified procedure at regular intervals. The number of samples to be tested increases with increasing annual throughputs of feedstocks and samples may only be tested by laboratories approved by the Composting Association.

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