TWENTY YEARS ago, potato and vegetable crop wastes were tipped into a large pit, sited on one of the fields at Whitehouse Farm, Friskney. That pit doesn’t exist today; Robert Caudwell uses other, more environmentally-friendly means of waste disposal.

He’s doing the right thing, says Environment Agency (EA) agricultural waste policy adviser Cormac Quigley. Because if Mr Caudwell had been using a farm pit, dump or tip when the new agricultural waste regulations came into force in 2005, then he’d have been liable for huge expense, and major difficulties. Operational farm pits will then come under the landfill regulations, and as such would require a permit. “Beware – this could be a big problem,” he says. “Farm dumps would be unlikely to meet the requirements for a permit.”

Although Mr Caudwell”s pit has been restored to cropped land, there are many farm dumps still in operation, and Mr Quigley”s warning message is urgent. “Anyone using a farm pit now should stop before the regulations come in, if they don”t want to find themselves in a mess. The expense of running what will be classed as a landfill site is likely to be way beyond the means of most farm businesses. If you continue to use your tip after the regulations apply, you could inadvertently be liable for very expensive costs of maintenance and closure of a landfill site.”

REGULATIONS

There will not be any transition period on this issue. Farmers should stop putting anything into the dump or pit, and await guidance from the EA. “The regulations are not retrospective, so if you stop using the pit or tip now you’ll be ok.”

At least that’s one problem Mr Caudwell does not have to worry about. A walk around his farm, with Mr Quigley and local EA adviser Faye Charlesworth, shows that Mr Caudwell is already on target to meeting the new waste legislation.

First stop is in one of the sheds, to view two large lidded recycling containers, for storing waste plastics and paper/card. These were installed seven months ago, to satisfy one of the farm’s supermarket customers. “There is a cost – about 5 a week – attached for the collection service by the local recycling company,” says farm manager Nat Bacon. “But we reckon it’s worth it.” Separation of waste streams at source is useful because it makes recycling easier, says Mr Quigley.

Mr Caudwell uses local recycling companies as a disposal route for plastic bags. Scrap metal is sold to a local merchant; used tyres go back to the supplier; dead batteries are returned to the dealer. Building rubble is used for roads and gateways. Crop residues – such as potato outgrades – are fed to stock on farm, and waste soil from processing is put back onto the land.

“It’s what you do with the material that determines whether it is a waste or not,” says Mr Quigley. “If it was going into the farm pit or tip, then it would definitely be waste.” So arguably, these processes could be defined as on-farm recycling. Where outgrades are sold to other local farmers for stock feed, then the material is a feed product rather than a waste material.

HAZARDOUS

The waste oil container, securely bunded, does raise questions about new controls. Waste oil is hazardous waste and under the new legislation, can only be stored on farm for up to a year, and when it is removed, there’s a requirement to complete new paperwork and a duty of care to check up that disposal agents are appropriately authorised. This shouldn”t pose a problem at Whitehouse Farm.

“We only store for six months and then the oil is collected by an authorised collection agent,” says Mr Bacon. Where the hazardous waste produced exceeds a threshold limit, producers must register with the EA, says Mr Quigley. Exemptions will be available for those who produce very small quantities.

Other hazardous waste would include asbestos sheets from redundant buildings, batteries and the foil caps from pesticide packs. “We would not be eligible for exemption from registration as our hazardous waste would be well over a 50kg a year limit, if that was the threshold,” says Mr Bacon. An exemption threshold for hazardous waste production is still under discussion by government.

Next stop is at the sprayer. Pesticide containers are triple rinsed thoroughly in accordance with recommended practice guidelines, using a sprayer mounted unit. These packs are currently incinerated on-farm. “This practice will have to be phased out after the new regulations are introduced,” says Mr Quigley. It’s likely there will be a transition period to allow the industry to find alternative disposal routes.

Given that pack recycling has been attempted in the past with limited success, this is easier said than done. Mr Caudwell is on the Agricultural Waste Stakeholders’ Forum and is a member of the sub-group investigating recovery, re-use, recycling of non-natural farm waste. Pesticide packs are an important issue. He’s confident that this time a solution will be found, and that it won’t cost farmers too much money.

“That’s our aim. It’s a tough challenge – there are issues of pack design and re-use. But the plastic material is high quality and I’m hopeful we’ll find recycling outlets. The biggest problem is collecting packs from farms. On a busy day here, we could use 200 plastic containers – we would not want to store these empty containers for too long; we don”t have the space.” Mr Caudwell envisages a recycling scheme with a national framework, but using local outlets.

INCINERATED

At present, the foils from pesticide packs are incinerated with the packs themselves. Unlike the rinsed packs, the foils will be classed as hazardous waste, because they cannot be rinsed effectively and are contaminated with pesticide. The disposal route should be through an authorised collection agent, and the foils should be stored securely, says Mr Quigley. As soon as the regulations are introduced, foils should no longer be burnt. No transitional period will apply in this case.

Vegetable crops are packed at a local packhouse run by John Clow. The plastic crop covers end up here, and these are the main waste stream. After a few seasons these are replaced, and the old covers discarded. “We’re considering investing in higher quality covers that will last longer and lessen the waste,” says Mr Clow. Plastic recycling companies are not keen to accept dirty covers, which can be a problem. It’s not always possible to lift covers in dry conditions, and to keep them clean from soil. At present, Mr Clow has to take covers to the local tip if they are rejected by recycling companies; he”s hunting for potential new outlets.

INITIATIVE

A web-based recycling directory listing local outlets is one initiative from the EA that could help; it will be on-line next spring. Other tools that the Agency is working on include one for waste streams, giving information on management. The EA will provide guidance on which wastes are hazardous. One of the voluntary modules within DEFRA’s Whole Farm Appraisal is to be based on waste management, so it’s worth getting to grips with the issue. Farmers will also be able to register for licensing exemptions on-line. There”s more information on the EA website; follow the links to agricultural waste: www.environment-agency.gov.uk

The EA is keen to help farmers understand and comply with the new legislation, says local EA officer Faye Charlesworth. “We find people want to do the right thing – they just need more information. So ask us. In the first year we want to get everyone on the right track.”