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The future of compost

Just as the European Commission is examining the possibility of a compost directive with the compulsory segregation of household organic waste highly probable the Dutch Government is likely to reverse the countrys 10-year old policy of collecting such wastes from every household.

Around 2.5 million tonnes per annum of composting capacity is available in the Netherlands, an amount exceeded in the EU only by Germany and Italy. (However their populations are 82m and 56m respectively compared to the Netherlands 16m).

The recycling and waste minimisation working group of the International Solid Waste Association recently met at the headquarters of the Dutch Solid Waste Management Association (NVRD) to discuss the governments reversal.

Essent Milieu compost manager John van Haeff told the group that since January 1994 households have separated vegetable, green and fruit waste for collection by municipalities.

Agriculture is the main market taking about 500,000 tonnes per annum of compost, but there are problems in retaining, let alone expanding this outlet. The amount of manure generated by the countrys 10m pigs plus cows and other livestock requires the whole country to spread manure without causing adverse environmental impact. Compost faces stiff competition with farmers paid to dispose of manure. Last year they were paid E35 (£23) per tonne for land spreading dried chicken manure.

In some locations, farmers might pay for compost, but only at a nominal E13 per tonne. And in many cases farmers are paid to accept compost at about E5 per tonne.

However, the future does offer other opportunities for developing the composting sector in the Netherlands. Peat replacement represents a potential market of 100,000 tonnes per annum with replacement for peat providing E20 per tonne in the soil market. The county will be following closely the UKs ability to stimulate markets through limiting peat use.



Advantages

In the Netherlands there are two advantages which composting has: its lower cost compared to landfill and its environmental advantages compared to other options.

Van Haeff hoped that the Netherlands would continue to support composting and that other countries should recognise the advantages that it provides.

But its industry now faces additional pressures, such as the Animal By-Products Regulation (ABPR). The Netherlands composting industry recognises that 13% of waste received is catering waste and is working together with others in the European Composting Network to ensure that existing collection and treatment systems can continue.

Gijs van Bezooijen, who has worked for the NVRD for the past year and has more than 25 years experience in the waste management sector, told the group that discussion was taking place through the AOO, an institute representing national, regional and local government, to remove the obligation for compulsory collection of food waste.

Also the AOO was examining the environmental benefits of composting under the National Waste Plan drafted in 2002, accepted in 2003 running through to 2009. Is it better to collect organic wastes separately and then subsequently compost these wastes or undertake anaerobic digestion or incineration?

The further option of gasification will be examined at a later date, while the introduction of bioplastics for packaging will affect the countrys compost sector in the near future.



Expectations

Separate collection of household wastes is important in the Netherlands with people expected to take their bottles to bottle banks, with municipalities required to provide at least one bottle bank for every 700 people and fortnightly or monthly kerbside collections of waste paper.

The weekly organic waste collection fits in well with this philosophy and un-training the public from this practice will be difficult.

There have been some modifications from the original strict requirements for food separation. Therefore in some c

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