27 July 2001

Green waste

offers great opportunities

Cheap, organic and

environmentally friendly –

could on-farm composting

be a valuable form of

supplementary income?

Andy Moore attended an

On-Farm Composting

conference at Harper Adams

University College to find out

ROCKETING targets set by the EU to cut the amount of biodegradable waste disposed in UK landfill sites are set to open up a raft of commercial opportunities for businesses involved in the agricultural industry.

This was the underlying message behind the On-Farm Composting conference held at Harper Adams University College last week.

Under the governments Waste Strategy 2000 prompted by the EU Landfill Directive, by 2010, biodegradable waste must be reduced to 75% of the amount land filled in 1995.

"The urgency for the Environment Agency and local authorities to cut the amount of biodegradable waste in land fill sites is becoming a frightening prospect," warns Roger Hockney, chairman of the Waste Planning Advisory Group. "Currently only 1m tonnes of biodegradable waste is recycled. If waste increases at present rates, about 33m tonnes must be diverted away from landfill sites by the year 2020."

Mr Hockney adds that attaining such ambitious targets in this short time will create major challenges for local authorities to find alternative and cost-effective means of waste disposal.

The Environment Agency and Composting Association believes the route to successful green waste recycling and composting lies in developing a more sustainable system of waste management.

"Incentives and opportunities for the farming-industry to become involved in green waste recycling and composting are endless," says Dr Jane Gilbert, chief executive of the composting association. "The terrific tonnage of waste which needs to be recycled is set to become an ideal form of diversification for an industry which is going through tough times."

Dr Gilbert believes the biggest opportunity for producers and contractors is to set up their own on-farm/site biodegradable waste recycling and composting facility where gate fees can be charged from £12/t to £25/t to the waste supplier.

The main form of biodegradable waste is green waste such as tree branches, hedge cuttings, shrubs and grass cuttings supplied by the council, the public and waste management companies.

To set up a composting facility, the Environment Agency requires the business to have a suitable site, waste management licence or registered exemption and planning permission to qualify for the change of business use.

Under the Waste Management Licensing Exemptions, businesses can set up a composting facility without having to obtain a full licence.

The exemptions allow the composting of biodegradable waste on a site under these conditions: On a site where the waste is produced or the compost is used.

The quantity of waste on the site does not exceed 1000cu m or 10,000cu m if compost is to be used for the growing of mushrooms at any time.

The principal objectives under the Waste Management Licensing regulations are to not cause pollution to the environment, harm to human health and serious detriment to the amenity of the locality.

More specifically, these objectives are concerned with prevailing winds and proximity to housing, businesses, watercourses and surrounding vegetation.

Shropshire grower, Mark Lea, started a green waste composting business to complement his organically converted 182ha (450-acre) farm in April.

Because Mr Lea has, to date, produced and consumed no more than 1000cu m of compost on his farm a year, he did not need a full Waste Management Licence.

But there are plans afoot to increase his intake of green waste and output of compost in the near future.

Planning permission was required because the farm is located in a green belt area, there was a change of land use, and for the construction of a hardcore base which is used to store raw green waste.

"For planning permission to be granted, we had to make some minor road improvements which cost about £1000," explains Mr Lea. "We hired in a tractor trailed Seko shredder to process green waste from Bridge North District Council which collects waste from the public and its own ground maintenance activities. Gate fees in our district vary from £14 to £20/t."

According to Harry West which imports the Seko shredders, hire costs for a 15cu m machine vary from £600 to £800/week. The price tag for such a machine is from £24,000.

Output for the shredder is rated at 50t/day and Mr Lea says the machine can process up to three months of stockpiled green waste in five days.

After waste is shredded and mixed in the machine for 15-30min, the Seko is towed out to the field where compost is deposited into three 60m long windrows.

The windrows are turned several times a month to maintain aerobic activity and temperature using a telehandler.

Mr Lea says optimum quality compost can be achieved in eight to 10 months and costs about £8/t to produce from the shredding operation to final product.

The compost is spread on Mr Leas own land at 25-30t/ha – and the saleable value of the compost is put at about £5-£15/cu m or £4/t.

This autumn, Mr Lea intends to a hold series of workshops at his farm to inform on the progress of his composting operation. For more information contact Mark Lea on Tel: 01952-581552. &#42

Composting facts

Requirements

&#8226 Waste/exemption license

&#8226 Planning permission

&#8226 Shredder hire £600-£800/week

Returns

&#8226 Gate fees £12-£20/t

&#8226 Compost value £5-£15cu m

&#8226 Organic product

COMPOSTING FACTS

Requirements

&#8226 Waste/registered exemption.

&#8226 Planning permission.

&#8226 Shredder hire £600-£800/week.

Returns

&#8226 Gate fees £12-£20/t.

&#8226 Compost value £5-£15cu m.

&#8226 Organic product.

Manual aid

The Composting Association has published a manual which is intended to give clear, up-to-date guidance for those wanting to set up a composting facility.

Entitled Large-Scale Composting, the manual has been written in response to demand from all sectors of the waste management industry, according to the Composting Association.

The manual is said to encompass all composting systems and their associated issues currently available in the UK.

Topics include an explanation of composting, feedstock sources, collection schemes together with site regulation and marketing finished compost.

The association says the manual explores these issues and explains them in an uncomplicated way. Price is £60 (01933-227777) www.compost.org.uk