Many farms risk leaving themselves open to time-consuming Environment Agency inspections that could, ultimately, lead to fines and imprisonment. The warning comes from the organisers of Webbpaton XS, a business set up about 14 months ago to recycle agricultural waste plastics and cardboard. Just how much such material is available across the UK is hard to gauge, says the firm’s Mark Webb.
“A 2000 acre all arable farm may not have a great deal, but a 200 acre farm making baled silage can create huge amounts. I’d estimate the annual amount runs to a six-figure tonnage.” By 15 May all farms must have registered for the waste management licence exemptions (via EA form WMAW01) that they expect to need, explains Mr Webb.
There are more than 20 such exemptions, including storing wastes intended for recycling – all of which are, currently, free, he points out. “We think that the vast majority of farms still haven’t done anything about it.”
Even with an exemption, farms may not store such waste for more than 12 months, and must have made arrangements for disposing of it, notes John Tingey, one of several local collectors for Webbpaton XS. “The key thing is that you must have a plan. Some farmers will still probably pay to send it to land-fill, especially if they live near a land-fill site.”
However, land-fill charges have increased and in the recent budget the chancellor announced that the tax is set to rise gradually to £48/t – more than double the current rate.
More importantly, some supermarkets are already dissuading their suppliers from using that route, the effect of which is likely to filter back to farms via assurance schemes, adds Mr Webb. “All the signs are that EA officers will initially be taking a ‘softly, softly’ approach and adopting a policy of educating farmers about the changes.”
However, come 15 May, they will need to see what disposal arrangements farmers have made, stresses Mr Tingey. Failure to have acted at all could lead to much more detailed investigations into adherence to other environmental regulations such as NVZ restrictions, warns Mr Webb. The Webbpaton XS scheme was set up under the Farm XS banner after several land agents in England and Wales saw it as a business opportunity.
With their rural knowledge they felt they could cater better for farmers’ needs under the new rules than larger firms from outside the industry, Mr Webb explains. “One of them will only take black plastic if it’s clean and dry. Others demand that farmers saw the screw tops off every plastic spray can.” Webbpaton XS adopts a “commonsense” approach to contamination by dirt, mud or dung, accepting that small amounts are inevitable. But it retains the right to penalise farms submitting excessively dirty material.
Some firms insist on providing collection bins for the waste charging £250 for each one, adds Mr Webb. “With our system you don’t need a bin.” In practice, if participating farmers don’t already have suitable bags, the local collectors supply large strong woven polypropylene ones for just £6 each.
So that the waste can be recycled, plastic and cardboard must be sorted by type and colour and bagged separately (see panel). WebbpatonXS will not accept unsorted materials. Placing a big bale or similar heavy weight on partially filled bags helps maximise their contents to save costs, notes Mr Tingey. “Don’t return rinsed spray cans to their boxes as this renders the cardboard hazardous and unrecyclable,” he advises.
Farmers may deliver full bags free to one of nine local centres or the firm will collect up to 16 for a £50 charge. Annual membership is acreage-based, ranging from £100 up to 40ha (100 acres) to £200 for farms over 200ha (500 acres). So far about 500 farms have signed up, but Mr Webb admits “only a few 100t” of plastic have been recycled.
However, the recent purchase of a baler able to make “mill size” 1cu m packs, leaves the firm well placed to deal with the needs of a growing number of outlets, he believes. “There’s a plant in the Cotswolds that should be up and running soon that is looking for 5000t a year of polythene.”
Contrary to some suggestions, chipping cans to reduce their volume, is unhelpful, he suggests. “It means the recyclers can’t clean the plastic properly.” Local collector Phil Godwin admits that, as Mr Webb suggests, embracing recycling often requires a change of attitude.
“But now we have the bags we prefer it,” says Mr Godwin whose family runs a 445ha (1100 acre) dairy and arable business at Middle Fosse Farm, North Wraxall, Wiltshire. “It helps keep the place tidy – which is worth a lot.”
If you want to sort out compliance with the waste regs or talk to recycling companies, come to Farm Waste West on 3 May at The Severn Hall, Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire. For more details ring 08454 900 142. To download free tickets, go to www.farm-smart.co.uk