The Environment Agency (EA) has reviewed its position and confirmed that leaf fall collections are waste and cannot be used for compost.
October’s update of the FAQs on the ‘recovery of street sweepings and gully emptyings’ has caused confusion among some waste disposal officers, who say they did not realise compost from leaf litter is not a recycled product.
The EA said it had conducted “a limited trial with four local authorities in Wales” that confirmed the “need for a precautionary approach to composting of this waste”.
The Autumn Leaf Litter Composting Trial 2011-2012 trial confirmed the presence of metals such as nickel, copper, chromium, molybdenum, zinc and other contaminants in leaf litter from rural street sweepings.
This leaves its previous guidance that compost produced from street sweepings, including autumn leaf litter, is a ‘compost-like output’ that can only be spread on non-agricultural land unchanged.
The National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) said that the confusion seemed to have arisen because it was not previously clear that leaf litter was classed as street sweepings.
A spokesman highlighted that the EA has said there are issues with the data from the trial and complained that the methodology for collecting the leaves during the trial had not been outlined.
Arguing that different methods should be considered, the spokesman said: “Leaves collected manually contain less of the waste that has been sat directly on the street and should be less contaminated than those collected mechanically.”
However the confusion does not seem to be universal. Another senior waste management figure said: “The Environment Agency hasn’t changed its advice. Leaf fall has always been classified as non-recyclable waste. We have always considered our leaf fall waste.”
The EA has said that it “will continue to review evidence provided on the composting of separate leaf litter collections”.
It is planning to conduct additional trials and has asked any local authorities interested in taking part to contact the Association for Organics Recycling.