Compost potential going untapped because of ‘nightmare’ legislation

Costly and burdensome legislation is limiting greater use of composts as a form of natural fertiliser and green waste disposal, according to Velcourt.

Under existing waste management rules, compost is not differentiated from other industrial waste, which means you have to register the activity as exempt from the Waste Management Licensing Regulations (1994), before it can be spread on land, explains the firm’s Douglas Inglis.

“One of the biggest problems with compost is that you have to apply for a waste exemption licence to use it, which costs £540 each time and limits you to applying a maximum of 1250t in any one location or farming business.”

You also have to designate a 50ha area for the compost to be used on and repeat the process (and cost) if further applications are required, he says.

“Compost has got some very big practical benefits [such as improving soil structure, fertility and organic matter], but if it’s too expensive to use, and too much hassle, growers won’t use it.”

Velcourt’s technical director, Keith Norman, agrees.

“The legislation is a nightmare.

Waste licensing legislation covers all waste from plastics to compost.

The government needs to give more power to regional officers to let them differentiate between compost and other waste.”

From a practical point of view Velcourt farm manager Matt Gregory has been pleased with the results from five years of trials with green waste compost at the 1000ha (2500-acre) Greenwell Farms, near Orford, Suffolk.

Annual applications of 50t/ha have increased average soil organic matter contents on heavy land by 1.1% to 4.1%, and from 1.6% to 2.2% on sandy soils over the five years, he says.

The potassium index on light land has also increased significantly – from index one to two.

The downside, other than licensing, has been high transport costs, he says.

Typically it costs £4-£5/t to get compost onto farm.

“It will only really work if you’re near a [composting] site.”

Mr Gregory has also trialled biosolids on heavy land in a wheat/ sugar beet rotation.

“They are cheaper and provide a much larger nutrient injection than compost.

An application of 32t/ha provides around 40kg nitrogen, 134kg phosphorus, 15kg potassium, 8kg magnesium and 16kg sulphur,” he says.