7 September 2001

Bureaucracy threatens green waste business

ON THE face of it, operating a green waste composting company should be pretty straightforward. Material can be delivered to the yard free of charge, it is reduced to pulp by a suitable machine, stored in a heap, turned a few times and the resulting compost sold back to the garden and landscaping industry. Simple. Not so, says Alan Rose of Mid-Surrey Farm, Ewell, Surrey.

For over two decades Mr Rose has offered his customers a range of products including composted tree mulch, a topsoil/compost mix and a manure compost – the latter a mix of horse manure and green waste compost. It is a two-man business which now has a turnover in excess of £40,000/year.

But now he believes the future of his business is under threat from a torrent of bureaucratic requirements which could ultimately see him ceasing to trade.

"Requirements from the planning authority and environmental agency are my greatest concern," he says. "Matters such as a need for a waste management licence, weighbridge, acres of concrete and surface water collection tanks all call for high cash investments which could make the business negatively viable."

"It takes about two years to compost material to the standard my customers require," he says. "This means that we hold up to 20,000cu m of material at any one time but this may fluctuate at different times of the year."

There are clearly problems for the Alan Rose operation which need to be resolved – ones which others considering starting a similar business may also wish to take into account.

But it is on the machinery side which Mr Rose feels he has really caught a cold. A machine which can reliably reduce large volumes of green waste to pulp is clearly an essential part of the composting process.

"There would appear to be very few machines on the market that can achieve this," he says. "A few years ago I invested almost £30,000 in an 18cu m composter which, frankly, was not man enough for the job. It proved to be very expensive on blades and other spare parts, and there were certain design features which let it down badly and meant we were not getting the required throughput."

Mr Rose concedes, however, on lighter work – producing his coarse peat substitute, for example – the unit performed well.

But with this machine confined to the barn, composting duties are now performed by a hired 500hp US-built tub grinder which is brought in about once a year to tackle the brunt of the work.

"In only a matter of days we can reduce virtually a whole years stock of green waste to compost," he says. "Although not producing such a fine pulp as the earlier unit – we need to screen it and recycle the larger pieces – the costs are significantly lower."

Overall, Mr Rose believes that left to his own devices, his business could flourish but pressure to conform to planning and environmental requirements may ultimately prove too great.

"My advice to new entrants in the composting business, which to my mind has potential, is to thoroughly research the subject from every angle," he says. "Consulting the Composting Association could also be a wise move."

&#8226 The Composting Association, tel: 01933 227777, web-site www.compost.org.uk &#42