Leaf litter from the street is too contaminated for safe composting, according to the Environment Agency (EA).
Initial results from trials run in 21 local authorities confirmed that leaf litter from the gutter contains high and variable levels of carcinogenic contaminants. Therefore they cannot be composted and used on agricultural land, according to the EA.
The EA has said it will reaffirm its original guidance banning the composting of street leaf sweepings as a result of the trials, run by the Organics Recycling Group (ORG) between the end of 2012 and early 2013.
However, the trials suggest these sweepings might still be suitable for separated organic materials (SOMs), which have had a recognised baseline standard since July. This means they could then be used for land restoration projects rather than going to landfill.
An EA spokesperson said: “Leaf litter collected from parks is great for composting, but in the past tests have shown that leaves swept up from the gutter are not suitable for composting. We want to encourage local authorities in their efforts to reuse as much waste as possible but we have to ensure that compost is of a high enough standard not to harm human health or the environment.”
She added: “If in the future new techniques or scientific proof become available we would of course look at the rules again.”
In May, MRW reported that a South Oxfordshire District Councillor David Dodds urged resources minister Lord de Mauley to overturn the EA guidance that street sweepings of leaf litter should not be used for agricultural compost.