Composting guide faces changes after risk assessment work

The Environment Agency has issued its long-awaited consultation paper on technical guidance for composting to try and resolve some of the confusion and insecurity that is currently plaguing the industry. But, it may be changed because of a risk assessment being carried out which could see a relaxation or tightening of the rules.

The guidance on the operation and regulation of composting facilities aims to increase the amount of composting carried out in the UK by minimising the adverse health and the environmental risks of composting. The guidance also aims to promote best practice in the industry as currently there is no independent guidance on the composting of organic wastes and clear guidance is essential if the amount of composting is to increase to meet government targets.

The consultation paper includes the Agency's position paper on both the health risks associated with composting and the Animal By-products Order.

Mark Okuniewski, agricultural waste policy manager at the Environment Agency, said: “We are very excited about the guidance as we feel it will provide a framework for the operation of composting in the next few years. It is a milestone for composting.”

He added: “Although it has been a long time in coming, the document is not breaking much new ground but is bringing quite a bit together. We hope people will engage in the consultation in a positive way and what hopefully will emerge is a good reference for the industry, which we will update in time.”

Mr Okuniewski admitted that the situation was “not ideal” with the Agency issuing guidance at a time when DEFRA was working on a composting risk assessment in the wake of concerns over foot and mouth disease and the composting of food waste. He added that the Agency has contributed to the specifications of the risk assessment and will revise its guidelines in the light of the findings. “In three months time we will have the results of the risk assessment and that will be at the end of the consultation period. We will then issue a separate document and revise our own statement.”

250 metres

The guidance, which has been developed with the Composting Association and the Environmental Services Association, incorporates the findings of two reports into composting and associated environmental and health effects. But further research is now being carried out by the HSE into dispersal monitoring and health effects of composting and the risks associated with composting within 250 metres of a dwelling or workplace. The Agency said that it will continue to work with DEFRA and others to identify appropriate controls measures that may allow operations to take place within this area.

The Agency hopes that the guidance will become a key reference document for the promotion of best practice in the operation and regulation of composting facilities and ensure that appropriate levels of management and control are employed.

The operations guidance covers the design, best operational practice, regulation and role of composting in integrated waste management. The paper also explains waste management licensing and exemption requirements and outlines future impacts of new legislation such as Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Regulations.
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