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Comment: An urgent need for reprocessing facilities

As the focus turns towards composting this week, a code of practice has been launched to promote good practice throughout the industry. This is essential, particularly with the introduction of the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme and as the composting industry develops.

There has clearly been a growth in collection of organic waste at kerbside over the past few years, with a number of councils receiving funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Despite the growth in garden waste being collected for composting, only a fifth is currently being captured and there is still a need for more kitchen waste.

Findings in the Composting Association's (CA) latest survey show that the estimated six million tonnes of kitchen wastes remain a largely untapped resource.

The survey indicates an increase in the amount of material composted and a substantial development in on-farm composting sites, but there is still plenty of work to do.

The increase in on-farm composting was also reflected in the types of compost products developed and marketed. Around 40% of composted products went to the agricultural sector, with the largest fraction as soil conditioner, followed by mulches.

Much of these products carry little, if any, value and this is an area that requires further work. Developing products and markets that bring about sales opportunities are essential for the long-term sustainability of this sector, particularly as public funding will not continue indefinitely.

Composting has attracted media attention in recent weeks and no doubt there will be increased publicity following the events of Composting Week. Increased awareness is likely to generate more organic wastes being collected either at kerbside or through civic amenity sites. And if this is the case there needs to be sufficient facilities to reprocess it.

The CA's survey showed that there has been considerable growth in small, dispersed facilities in the past year, but the growth in larger facilities is yet to be seen. While smaller facilities can treat the waste where it is locally produced, larger facilities are required to treat more difficult and larger quantities.

Events in recent weeks have demonstrated that more investment is required in reprocessing sites across a variety of materials around the country. DEFRA funding, directed particularly at kerbside schemes, as well as national TV and press advertising, have led to a boost in materials collected, much of which is being exported around the world.

Planning regulations mean that the capacity problem cannot be dealt with overnight. Has there been too much concentration on the collection side at the expense of reprocessing capacity in this country?

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