Permits allowing bio-compost to be spread on agricultural land could soon be introduced, following trials by Leicester City Council.
Compost produced by a waste treatment facility which is fed with organic waste that is not source segregated from other household waste is called bio-compost. MBT facilities typically produce bio-compost because they take in black bag waste made from mixed residual and organic waste.
In 2005 the Environment Agency (EA) changed regulations so that bio-compost could only be dumped in landfill or used for land restoration, it cannot be spread on agricultural land unlike compost produced from source segregated organic waste. However, this means that finite resources such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are present in the bio-compost, are wasted rather than being used to fertilise soil.
Leicester City Council, in partnership with its waste contractor Biffa and environmental consultancy ADAS has been undertaking trials of the bio-compost produced at its waste facilities on local agricultural land, Loddington Farm.
“We’ve analysed the bio-compost produced in Leicester for three years and undertaken a risk assessment of it to show that it was safe,” ADAS head of soils and nutrients Brian Chamber told MRW. “We’ve undertaken the trial at a farm where they have grown crops and it has gone very well. So we hope the EA can eventually provide Leicester with a bespoke permit to allow the local authority to spread the bio-compost on agricultural land. I believe we have provided the EA with the information they need to show that it is suitable.”
He hopes the permit will be available as soon as Spring 2011.
According to Chamber, if the EA introduced the permits, which would be granted on a case by case basis, the affect would be “massive”.
Leicester City Council sends its residual waste to Biffa’s MBT facility, which separates out the garden waste to be treated at its anaerobic digestion plant. However, the fertiliser produced by the AD process is still classed as bio-compost. Leicester City Council produces 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of this bio-compost each year, with most of it being sent for land restoration since 2005.
Leicester City Council head of waste management Steve Western explained that when the council entered into the waste private finance initiative contract it had planned to send the bio-compost to agriculture but the EA changed regulations shortly after. He said: “It’s been a fairly long process and very expensive but the knowledge that the EA and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has gained from the trials is brilliant, particularly because the Government is pushing for more AD.”
The trials have so far cost the council £300,000. However, it is possible that if the bio-compost does receive permission to be spread on agricultural land, it could attract a value.
A spokesperson for the EA said anyone has the right to apply for a bespoke permit and it could not comment on specific cases but added: “If we receive an application for permit to spread compost- like output from a specific MBT source at a specific site for a specific type of crop, then we will consider that application on its merits. We will require an evidence-based assessment of the risks and benefits. We shall maintain a precautionary approach to ensure that such operations are permitted and carried out on the basis of the best available evidence. “