Resource management minister Lord de Mauley has been urged to overturn Environment Agency (EA) guidance that street sweepings of leaf litter should not be used for agricultural compost.
The call came from David Dodds, a senior member of the South Oxfordshire District Council, as MRW was told that the EA was evaluating data from recent trials of the practice.
Dodds personally asked the minister to reverse the ban on using leaf litter for agricultural compost during the official opening ceremony for Agrivert’s anaerobic digestion plant in Wallingford.
EA guidance on street sweepings in October last year caused confusion among councils when, following earlier trials, leaf litter was classed as street sweepings. At the time, the EA maintained its previous guidance had also stated that compost from leaf litter could only be spread on non-agricultural land.
The EA are right to be cautious, but a blanket ban is not helping us
Cllr David Dodds
Dodds said South Oxfordshire council’s leaf litter was now sent to landfill which had an impact on recycling figures, added to the council’s costs, and caused more greenhouse gas emissions compared to composting.
The earlier Autumn Leaf Litter Composting trial 2011-2012 found metals such as nickel, copper, chromium and other contaminants in leaf litter from rural street sweepings in Wales, and the agency called for a “precautionary approach” to the material.
Dodds said: “We think the EA has overplayed its hand. They are right to be cautious, but a blanket ban is not helping us. We just want the collections to go back to composting plants.”
Contamination levels in district leaf collections were minute, he added.
The guidance is unlikely to be overturned until the EA has reviewed the evidence of the latest leaf litter composting trials run by the Organics Recycling Group of the Renewable Energy Association. The trials, which started in November last year, have been completed and are awaiting evaluation from the EA.
We will continue to review evidence provided on the composting of separate leaf litter collections
The REA’s technical director Jeremy Jacobs told MRW: “Our view is that it is safe… but this [guidance] can’t be changed until the EA have reviewed the evidence. We want them to make a decision before the autumn.”
Jacobs explained that roadside leaf litter could not currently be used for agriculture but could be used for safer alternatives such as land restoration. Because restoration was not always available, leaf litter ended up in landfill.
He added: “Councils that work with us to provide the EA with evidence of their leaf litter will be in a good position, if the EA work on a case-by-case basis.”
An EA spokesman told MRW: “We will continue to review evidence provided on the composting of separate leaf litter collections. A number of local authorities have expressed a willingness to participate in trials to provide further evidence and to identify under what circumstances separate leaf litter collections could be considered a suitable input to compost sites.”