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Feature: Crowning glories

While kerbside collections have sprung up across the UK to collect householders' cans, bottles and papers, one particular area of waste is getting a good deal of attention.

Garden waste is something which, just from its sheer bulk, is proving extremely popular with local authorities keen to increase their tonnages.

The number of councils that have started kerbside collections of garden waste is significant. One such local authority is Carlisle City Council, which runs the Hespin Wood Garden Waste Composting Project in partnership with Eden District Council, Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Waste Management and AW Jenkinson (Wood Waste) Ltd.

However, as Mike Gardner, environmental officer at Carlisle City Council points out, while the project may have taken off in recent years, Carlisle is something of a veteran when it comes to municipal composting, having had arrangements in place since 1994.

"We've always taken the view that our expertise is in collection and disposal. We took the plunge with composting in the mid 1990s, with the emphasis on garden waste collection, which was something of a hangover from the Environmental Protection Agency."

Initially, garden waste from civic amenity sites, small scale kerbside collections and grounds maintenance contracts were composted at Carlisle's Willowholme depot, via a partnership with Cumbria Waste Management. But then as Gardner explains, municipal composting was in its infancy, "and it grew and grew and grew, and eventually outgrew the site".

Gardner says the general principle behind the scheme, and what Carlisle has recognised, is the promotion of the long-term viability of composting. He adds that an enormous booster to the scheme has been the partnership with Cumbria Waste Management and a £570,000 grant they received from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA) Natural Waste and Recycling Fund.

"In terms of managing this sort of waste, Carlisle has really taken the plunge. We definitely had the will," says Gardner. "In 1997, we received the grant from DEFRA. We had a dream of an all-singing, all dancing waste scheme. It has been an evolution though, it's not been a big bang, and it's not been case of 0-60 in three seconds."

With the grant from DEFRA a new purpose-built composting site was proposed at Hespin Wood, and the site was opened on April 1 2004. Including the financial input from DEFRA, the total cost of establishing Hespin Wood was £731,000.

In terms of the waste handled, Hespin Wood appears to be holding its own. From figures up to the end of December last year, it had accepted 7,000 tonnes of waste from 40,000 households - 10% of the total waste household waste produced in the Carlisle and Eden districts.

The Carlisle public have also taken to the scheme: "They think it's the best thing we've ever done," says Gardner. Part of the success, he believes, is down to the collections from wheelie bins, with bins proving a source of fascination for the public, but good old Mother Nature also helped: "Last year was very wet, and it seems that people just decided to garden for Carlisle, and the bins soon filled up."

There have been problems encountered along the way, not least owing to the rural situation of much of the Eden district beyond the Carlisle conurbation: "It's quite a large rural area," says Gardner, "and lately drivers have been encountering two foot high snowdrifts.&qu

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