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Organics - 1 March

A landfill ban on food waste seems to be moving up the political agenda, following a recent Government statement and an expected announce-ment from the Labour Party in the next few weeks.

Further regulatory boosts for the organics sector could also be on the cards with the Judicial Review (JR) expected on the separate collection of waste and developments around European end-of- waste criteria.

On 12 February, waste minister Lord de Mauley confirmed that, during the next two years, the Govern-ment will be “reviewing the case for restrictions on sending particular materials to landfill… including looking specifically at textiles and biodegradable waste”.

He stressed that such a restriction would have to be “the best value way of moving material up the waste hierarchy” and affordable for business and the public sector.

This follows indications from shadow Defra ministers Mary Creagh and Gavin Shuker that a ban on food waste to landfill could well be a policy within Labour’s forthcoming Waste and Recycling Strategy, and ultimately its manifesto before the 2015 General Election.

While questions around viability, enforcement and affordability are for the Government to answer, it is heartening to see such an important issue receiving close political attention.

Such a move could provide a huge boost to the anaerobic digestion (AD) industry in the UK by making food waste available which might other-wise have been landfilled.

There are 7.2 million tonnes of household food waste still generated each year and, while ensuring that the overall quantity is reduced, there is great scope for sending the remaining portion to AD. The Govern-ment acknowledged in its Waste Review that this gives the “greatest environmental benefit” of any treatment for food waste.

By the time you read this, we will probably know the outcome of the JR on whether the UK and Welsh Govern-ments correctly interpreted European regulations on the separate collection of recycling, in stating that commingled waste collection counts as a form of separate collection.

As MRW readers are no doubt aware, this position has been challenged by the Campaign for Real Recycling. It disagrees with the Government’s position that commingled collections of household and business waste does not have to end by 2015, to be replaced by source segregated collections.

The upshot of these developments is that local authorities could eventually be compelled to implement source-segregated waste collections - although this could be a lengthy process, with the Government forced to work out a new trans-position of the Waste Framework Directive into law.

But if this were to mandate separate food waste collections, it would allow high-quality recycling of the organic material itself and of dry recyclates.

Council waste policy could also be affected by a European Commission review of the Waste Framework by the end of 2014. This could see tougher targets in relation to the target to recycle 50%

of household waste by 2020, Landfill Directive targets for biodegradable municipal waste and recycling targets in the Packaging Directive.

Development of the digestate market is also moving forward, with the ongoing negotiations around end-of-waste criteria. The new criteria would replace PAS 110 and the AD Quality Protocol, and provide common criteria for proving end of waste for biodegradable waste treatment across Europe. 

The European Joint Research Centre (JRC) held a technical workshop in Seville on 26 February to discuss the proposals.

Most of the focus has been on the ‘positive list’ of allowable inputs, with the latest draft document proposing to return to criteria based on separately collected wastes - although it does seem to leave open the possibility of national criteria for sewage sludge and/or mixed municipal waste.

There are still serious issues to be resolved such as the sampling and analysis regime, where there is little clarity. But the JRC appears to be in favour of expensive independent sampling. The original proposals for stability testing have been dropped, and provision made for member states to put in place their own testing.

While there is still great uncertainty in all these areas, there is certainly room for optimism in the organics and AD sector.

Charlotte Morton, chief executive, Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association

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