BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 4 2001-10-08 Steve Tinling (Cityworks Home Composting Project, Newcastle City Council)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Report on the operation of the above (For copy see Official Minute Book)

(The Chair welcomed Mr Steve Tinling (and Gearoid Henry) to the meeting:

Mr Tinling reported that he had been involved in composting in a professional capacity since March 1993, when he was employed as a Community Composter at a local voluntary project. In January 1995 he and 3 colleagues conducted an intensive 3-week study tour of North America exploring various community composting options. He had been instrumental in setting up, developing and running the composting project since its inception in September 1996. Mr Tinling elaborated on the operation of the scheme, as detailed in his report.

Mr Tinling suggested that home composting was cost effective and environmentally friendly. It had advantages over kerbside collection of domestic garden waste, and was the most sustainable option. Vegetable material could be composted with finished compost used at source. There was also control over non-compostable contaminants. A high quality of compost could also be achieved.

Surveys had been undertaken with the assistance of students at the University of Northumbria where analysis had revealed that each composting bin sold, diverted on average 2 plastic shopping bags of kitchen and garden waste per week from the domestic waste stream. This averaged at approximately one quarter of a tonne per bin per year. Mr Tinling also stressed the importance of training sessions.

At this stage, the following questions were asked:-

(1) Are you concerned that the home and community composting does not count towards the current statutory recycling performance standards? (Phil Capon)

Mr Tinling did not see this as a barrier. Normally, there was no feedback from the purchaser of a bin, although names and addresses of persons were taken at the outset for a database. In suggesting that there appeared to be no incentive for local authorities to prioritise, Phil Capon queried Mr Tinling's position if home and community composting was included in the targets. Mr Tinling confirmed his view that this would be desirable.

(2) Can you calculate what amount is taken out of the municipal waste stream by the current level of home composting in Newcastle? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Henry reported that there were currently 6000 bins at 1500 tonnes each.

(3) Are there areas of Newcastle where you think community composting would be a more realistic choice than home composting? (Eric Landau)

Mr Tinling stated that he would like to see a great deal more community composting in Newcastle. One of the dilemmas related to the fact that whereas people generally wanted this, they tended to not want it in their local area. Every programme was bound by the same waste regulations as a landfill site, and attempts had been made regularly over the last 6 years to regularise this situation. There were 350 community sites in Britain where, arguably, the regulations were being broken.

(4) In your experience of community composting, are composting sites an environmental or health hazard? (Mike Rabley)
Mr Tinling stated that this was not the case in his experience. In response to a query from the Chair, he suggested that the response to the recent foot and mouth regulations had been an over-reaction i.e. banning food waste from going into composting projects. Mr Tinling stated that he would not recommend meat waste going into the system anyway.
(5) How well run and well used are home composting bins? What level of support is needed after people have bought their bins? (Roger Mould)

Mr Tinling reported that a contact telephone number/help line was given when the bin was purchased and he was always available for help. Personally, he was more interested in giving advice than 'selling'.

(6) As an expert in composting, what is your opinion of Newcastle City Council's plans to produce 'grey compost' from unsegregated waste from 30% of the municipal waste stream? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Tinling expressed his own view hat this was not the best scheme. In his opinion, grey compost was 'dirty' compost. It was a way and means of dealing with some material. One of the problems of community composting and kerbside collection was a question of control over what went into it. Mr Tinling made reference to instances during the Chapel Park service, which suggested that there was a need for education.

(7) Why do the existing waste management licensing regulations make it very difficult for community composters to sell their product? (Bob Stewart)

Mr Tinling suggested that this was all to do with scale. There was no easy answer, and attempts had been made to overcome anomalies. The Chair queried where there were problems with regulations on sites. Mr Tinling confirmed that site licensing (distance of water-courses etc) had been problematic. In terms of standards, Mr Tinling stated that most projects far outstripped the required specifications.

Mike Rabley queried why the old style rubbish bins could not have been converted into compost bins. Mr Tinling suggested that it was easier to use purpose built bins; however, he could advise potential users on how to convert them. On the question of wheelie-bins, Mike queried whether there had been proper 'joined-up thinking' in terms of his community role. Mr Tinling stated that he had no problems with wheelie bin use. They were cleaner and more hygienic. However, it might have been a better idea to use smaller bins.

The Chair queried the situation on wood chip and queried the arguments on composting versus selling the material. Mr Tinling replied that tonnes of wood chip were received every week, some of which was composted. Wood chip was biodegradable within a year. Arising from this discussion, Mr Tinling reported that dog and cat litter and disposable nappies should not be used in composting.

On the question of promotion of the scheme, Mr Tinling suggested that for the most part, most people got in touch having seen an advertisement in the local newspaper; moreover, that people had already developed an interest in the first place.

Mr Tinling stated that one major problem was the question of space. People were reluctant to have large schemes in their area because of the fact that, for example, large wagons were driving through small communities.

With 6000 bins being used at the moment, Roger Mould queried what percentage of the total population of Newcastle this represented. Gearoid Henry pointed out that there were 120,000 households at present, making this a 5% percentage of use.

Mike Rabley asked if Mr Tinling would like to see a dedicated team of people funded by the local authority operating via himself, to allow for a more structured approach. Mr Tinling suggested that composting was about 'doing', but he was not convinced that a team of people knocking on doors advertising the composting scheme would be effective. The scheme was really there for people who wanted it. However, it was noted by Phil Capon that the Chapel House response had been good. Mr Tinling confirmed that Gearoid Henry had made presentations in the area. On the question of costs, Mr Henry reported that diversion from landfill did make for a saving; however there was a 'selling on' of the costs of collection. When balanced out, this resulted in a shortfall of �25,000.

Mr Reynell of Safe-Waste Systems pointed out that in Hampshire, the local authority had stated that 35% of waste-stream green waste could be composted (compared to a quoted percentage of 25% in Newcastle). Mr Tinling suggested that the Portagester system described could save �1million over 10 years.

The Chair thanked Mr Tinling for his attendance.