Organics recycling in 2017: What does the future hold?

Written by: Jeremy Jacobs | Published:

Biodegradable resources are a significant stream within the Circular Economy (CE) and make up to 45% of the total waste stream prior to segregation. It is for this reason that much has been done in recent years to remove this from the residual waste stream with separate collection of garden and green waste and more recently food waste, writes Jeremy Jacobs from the Organics Recycling Group, Renewable Energy Association.

Unfortunately because garden waste is not a ‘mandatory’ collected waste stream under EU law, there has been an increase in the number of local authorities now charging for this service. There has been much back-pedalling of late with cash strapped local authorities seeking ways to save money. One way they are achieving this ambition is through implementing charging schemes for the collection of garden waste.

Prod to central government

This is no criticism on local authorities, but more of a prod to central government that if we are to take climate change seriously and remove putrescible waste from landfill or incineration then there needs to be greater support provided to them for this important work.

Less than 50% of local authorities currently collect food waste and WRAP estimate that there is still in excess of seven million tonnes of food waste being sent to landfill or incinerated, loss of a valued resource which can be used not only to generate heat and power but also used as a sustainable fertiliser.

The devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have implemented successful regimes to mandate the collection and treatment of food waste leaving England in the shadows. The current minister responsible for Defra, Therese Coffey seeks a voluntary approach as did her predecessor Rory Stewart.

Meeting our 50% recycling target?

Without legislative enforcement however, it is unlikely that the step change required will happen if we are to make the paradigm shift necessary and also meet our 50% recycling target by 2020 which is juddering to a halt!

Recent recycling rates data (classed as ‘provisional’- 12 months to June 2015) show a 0.7% fall in the volume of waste that is managed by local authorities. This is the first time this has fallen (although it has been static for some time) in the last five years. This fall was in no small part due to the reduction in organics recycled, which has fallen by 5.7% for the reason cited above.

If we are to make the best of this valued resource, then we need to place more emphasis on the ‘positives’ of removing this material from landfill and the significant contribution this action will make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to this there is the positive influence in incorporating compost within our soils and replacing valuable organic matter.

Use of conventional artificial fertilisers do not add any organic matter (OM) to soils, whereas continued use of composts and digestates are evidenced to increase OM by up to 20%, (see details of the WRAP funded work under the WRAP funded DC-Agri project).

Adding value

These additional benefits have the opportunity to ‘add value’ and mitigate against climate change in the farming arena. These benefits need to be recognised and promoted as widely as possible and supported by Government in order that farming practices continue to adopt a more sustainable approach to crop management where possible.

The Committee on Climate Change report said that the rate of soil loss in parts of the country is "not sustainable" and could endanger the profitability of farming in parts of East Anglia. In October 2014, research from the University of Sheffield highlighted the fact that some UK soils may only have 100 harvests left in them, due to unsustainable practices. The use of compost and digestate are now proven through the WRAP DC-Agri trials to provide additional enhancing properties which will extend the cropping life of our soils and increase their overall resilience to the climatic changes which we are experiencing now and in the future years.

In summary, we need to collect more biodegradable waste and stop burning and burying it, it has a value and we need to realise it NOW!

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