By Caelia Quinault
Environment minister Richard Benyon has defended the spreading of quality compost on land after an MP claimed thatgreen waste iscontaminating the soil and making life difficult for metal detectors.
On Wednesday (December 12), Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell said in a parliamentary debate that the spreading garden waste across farmland seemed to be an excellent idea at first glance as it diverted waste from landfill and provided a good source of nitrogen.
However, after being contacted by a constituent who is a metal detecting enthusiast,the Liberal Democrat MPsaid he was appalled to hear that metal detectors looking for buried treasure were more likely to find a wide variety of metal crushed and mashed among the rotting green waste.
He then spoke to the National Council for Metal Detecting who said their hobby was being ruined by the contaminants in fields and that it was turning the countryside into one big landfill site. The Council has recently launched a petition calling for the practice to be banned.
Sir Russell said it was clear that not everyone in the green waste industry was up to the job and gave the example of Vital Earth Ltd in Derbyshire, which in August this year was fined 75,000 for delivering compost to a farmer which was contaminated with mixed waste such as plastics, paper and metals (see letsrecycle.com story).
He commented: I sense that what I have told the House this evening is only a snapshot of a major national scandal.”
I conclude with a rallying cry from the president of the National Council for Metal Detecting, which I am confident will be echoed by every environmental campaigner in the country:
“The dumping of green waste on farm land is not only ruining our hobby, it is also contaminating the land for decades to come. The dumping of this material is nothing short of legalised fly-tipping and has to be stopped.
In response, Mr Benyon defended the practice of producing quality compost from green waste, claiming that no-one should challenge the idea that it is right to encourage the treatment of green waste to produce valuable compost of soil conditioner.
He stressed that agriculture is the most important single market for compost, accepting 1.8 million tonnes of a total production of 2.9 million tonnes in 2010.
He said: Green waste compost, when produced to the right quality standard and used in the right way, benefits agriculture, particularly on arable cropped soils. It replaces fertilisers or the use of peat and other material, thus conserving natural resources.
However, Mr Benyon agreed there was a need to achieve a balance between encouraging recycling and protecting the environment and that Defra did not want contaminated waste to be spread on land.
He explained that the Environment Agency has an important role in regulating composting and other waste recovery operations and in ensuring that composting did not result in the producing of leachate that escaped into waster courses or causes odours that create nuisance.
“Green waste compost, when produced to the right quality standard and used in the right way, benefits agriculture”
Richard Benyon, Defra
And, he said that quality protocols were in place supported by publicly available standards PAS 100 for compost which include stringent limits on physical contaminants such as metals, plastics and glass, adding: Those limits were revised down from a total of 0.5% of dry weight to 0.25% in 2011. They are now the toughest in Europe.
Sir Russell said he was disappointed with the ministers comments so far as he claimed what the minister was describing was not happening out there in the field.
However, Mr Benyon assured him that the Government are in absolutely no way complacent about this and that it would follow up any cases where it believed there had been a failure to comply.
The minister concluded: I hope that I have managed to reassure my hon. Friend and the House that there are good regulatory systems in place, and sanctions that should be working. There are also quality protocols which, if complied with, can add immensely to helping our environment. Where they are not being complied with, the perpetrators can be punished.