Legislation set to get tighter

By Andy Collings

On-farm composting is about to alter, believes Tony Breton of the Composting Association.

“With it widely expected that proposals for a change in the current composting exemption scheme will be implemented later this year, farmers will be faced with some big questions regarding viability,” he says.

An on-site limit of just 400t may mean many farm businesses will find it difficult to make enough profit for it to make financial sense, he points out.

“The route could be to take the job on more seriously and apply for a full waste management licence which, although requiring a significant investment would allow a high volume of waste to be processed each year,” he says.

Currently, a waste managment licence (WML) exemption can be applied for based on the quantity of material being processed at any one time and the use of the finished compost. It also proposes that a maximum of 10t of unprocessed material may be stored for up to 48 hours before processing.

And, to ensure that rules and standards are maintained, the Environment Agency could carry out annual – or more frequent – site inspections.

Sites that process more than 10t/year will be required to keep records on the quantity of material on site at any one time, what it is and where it came from, how it is to be composted and where the compost is going to be used.

All of which will probably not have too dire an effect on the average on-farm composting business. But the proposed tonnage limitations clearly could have.

Depending on the actual site and the type of material being composted, the proposals put an on site maximum of either 200t, 250t, 300t or 400t – weights which are a total of the amount of material waiting to be processed, that being composted and the finished compost.

For the 400t maximum, the site must have an impermeable – concrete – pad with sealed drainage.

In 2004 the Composting Association recorded 173 on-farm composting sites in the UK, nearly double the number operating in 2002.

According to Mr Breton, half of all on-farm sites process less than 1000t and over three-quarters below 2000t.

And it is perhaps this rapid expansion of farms applying for licence exemptions and the increasing volumes of material being processed that has fuelled the proposed introduction of the new regulations.

However, help is at hand. Should farmers choose to apply for a full waste management licence, next month will see the introduction of a new composting industry code of practice which, says Mr Breton, will assist those involved in the regulation and process of compost production by providing a benchmark from which everyone can operate.

“Supported by DEFRA, the Environment Agency and similar agencies in Wales and Scotland, the code will be a practical working document,” he says.

And it could be pretty useful in avoiding lengthy bureaucratic wrangles if it lives up to its intentions of providing a route map for obtaining the necessary authorisations and consent for such matters as planning permission and waste management licensing.

There are also a host of other aims for the new code of practice including the identification of good site management practices that can act as a benchmark for the industry.