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New ways with waste

Under the EU Revised Waste Framework Directive the European Commission is currently considering whether to introduce EU-wide end of waste (EoW) criteria for biowaste. The impact of any new changes could be profound.

As the first step in this process, the commission has tasked its joint research centre to develop proposals for EoW for both compost and digestate. The UK is the only member state to have an independently certified mechanism for defining the point at which digestate may be used as a product and is no longer a waste.

In England and Wales the point at which digestate becomes a non-waste material is defined by the AD Quality Protocol (ADQP) while in Scotland it is defined in a SEPA Position Statement. Both include mandatory compliance with the PAS110. Independent certification and accreditation is run by the Renewable Energy Association as part of the Biofertiliser Certification Scheme.  

Any new EU EoW would supercede the existing UK national EoW standards. However the European EoW process is at least 18 months from completion. In the meantime, the existing BCS system continues to develop, whilst keeping an eye on the development of any new criteria. A new EU EoW would not mean the end of the current BCS, but it does entail an alignment with any new conditions.  

Within the EU Waste Framework, biowaste may have to achieve EoW status to qualify as re-cycling. Defra is seeking clarification on this, but both Scotland and Wales currently require compost and digestate to meet national EoW standards to count as recycling. 

The impact of changes to EoW criteria on existing and future waste feedstock contracts in the UK will be profound.  For instance, for organic processing contracts under negotiation in Wales, failure to attain EoW status for digestate would result in a breach of contract.  This might affect the ability of local waste authorities to reach their re-cycling targets via AD treatment.

The problem is not that the current proposals present a higher standard than the current BCS but that they appear to be structured to suit the very different conditions in Germany and Austria where high percentages of crops are used. In the UK high percentages of food waste are commonly used.

An example of the feedstock differences is illustrated in the proposed “stability test” based on a measurement of organic acids. There are concerns that the limits are suitable for crop feedstocks but not food waste. Other concerns include proposals for external sampling, inflating costs, a lack of scientific data to support changes and the introduction of new laboratory tests, which are not currently used in the UK.

As if these developments are not complex enough, the ADQP and PAS110 are currently under review and WRAP has run a series of workshops to get industry feedback.

The ideal resolution for REA would be to delay the introduction of the digestate proposals whilst more evidence is developed or, if not, to derogate the more controversial conditions to individual member states and allow an extended transition period to ensure that all proposals can be implemented smoothly without disrupting existing proven systems. Alternatively, a pilot scheme could test the proposals.

As administrators of the BCS, we are acutely aware of the high level of concern over the uncertainties presented by the review of BCS and the impending European EoW criteria and have worked hard to consult industry and present our views to JRC and EU.

Under Defra AD Team leadership, a well co-ordinated industry group has come together with the objective of supporting government officials in their negotiations to attain an EoW regulation workable in the UK. The forum fully endorsed WRAP’s work in commissioning an impact assessment on the effect of the proposals in the UK and other technical work including testing of digestate samples using the proposed JRC methods. Results of this work will be fed directly to the JRC, the commission and other member states. At the same time WRAP is running a series of contracts designed to present new evidence on possible changes to ADQP and PAS110.

The REA and AfOR recently met a key JRC director to pass on their practical experience in running both digestate and compost EoW schemes; we stressed the importance of retaining and building the Biofertiliser Certification Scheme in order to minimise uncertainty in the UK AD industry. After all, the UK is the expert in Europe to date.

David Collins is head of biofertiliser certification scheme at the Renewable Energy Association

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