BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 6 2001-10-15 Ralph Crouch (Environment Agency, talking on composting)

written evidence submitted in advance

Ralph Crouch has submitted three documents as "evidence in advance":

  1. Environment Agency policy guidance note: composting and landspreading and the implications of the animal by-products amendment order 2001
  2. Agency position on composting and health effects
  3. DEFRA briefing note on composting


Animal By-Products Amendment Order 2001

The Animal By-Products (Amendment) (England) Order 2001 (SI No. 1704) and the Animal By-Products (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2001 (SI No. 1735) amend the Animal By-Products Order 1999 (SI 646) (ABPO). The effect of this is to make it an offence to, inter alia, allow livestock to have access to some catering wastes or compost produced from them.

This measure is aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of animal diseases such as Classical Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth, which could potentially be present in infected meat in catering waste.

The ban applies to catering waste which contains animal carcasses, parts of animal carcasses or products of animal origin (or has been in contact with these) or which originates from premises where they are handled or where foodstuffs containing or coming into contact with them are prepared or produced. This therefore includes any food or kitchen waste from most households.

The term livestock includes all birds.

Implications of the Order

The implications are that catering waste of a type described above, including source segregated kitchen waste as collected by local authorities, cannot be composted or spread on land where birds can get to it. Additionally, compost produced from such catering waste cannot be spread on any land to which birds can get access.

The composting of green waste or the landspreading/use of compost derived from green waste is not affected by the Order.

Given the implications of the Order on the Government's waste strategy and composting targets, research has been commissioned to determine the level of risk to animal health from the composting and landspreading options described above. The ABPO will be reviewed in the light of these findings and this work is expected to take some 3 months to complete.

In the meantime, DEFRA, the Local Authority Co-ordinating Organisation for Trading standards [LACOTS] and the Agency are in discussion regarding the impact and enforcement of the Order.

Enforcement of the ABPO

DEFRA and local authorities are the competent authorities for enforcing the ABPO and guidelines on the enforcement of the Order are to be provided in due course.

Agency responsibility

The Agency is required to satisfy itself when granting waste management licences or registering activities as exempt, and when carrying out inspections of existing facilities, that the activities do not breach the relevant objectives of the Waste Framework Directive. The relevant objectives include 'ensuring that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health and without using processes or methods which could harm the environment and in particular without.risk to.animals...'

New waste management licence applications/exempt activity registrations
Where the Agency receives applications for waste management licences, or requests to register activities as exempt from waste management licensing, which may be impacted by the Order, it should make applicants aware of the Order and notify the local authority.
The Agency should seek details from the applicant/ notifier of what measures are to be put in place to ensure that there is no breach of the relevant objectives and that livestock do not have access to the waste.Unlessthe applicant/notifier can satisfy the Agency that the activity will not be in breach of the relevant objectives the Agency should refuse to licence the activity or register the activity as exempt.
Existing licensed/ registered exempt facilities
If the Agency becomes aware that existingfacilities are operating in a way that may be impacted by the Order it shall provide relevant details to the local authority.
The Agency is working with Government to clarify the risk posed by such activities. Until such time as we are able to do so, and can provide further guidance to staff, no action should be taken by the Agency in relation to existing licensed/exempt activities.

Further information will be provided, as it becomes available.

The detailed provisions of the ABPO and Amendment Orders, definition of catering and green waste etc. and references will be provided with the final position statement.




This paper sets out the Agency's position on the health effects from composting any waste type. The position will be effective from 13th August 2001 released both internal and external to the Agency in the Agency's Technical Guidance on Composting Facilities, in order to clarify key issues for consistency and transparency.

The Agency's position is:
There will be a presumption against permitting [and to object to any planning application] of any new composting process [or any modificationextension to an existing process] where the boundary of the facility is within 250 metres of a workplace or the boundary of a dwelling, unless the application is accompanied by a site-specific risk assessment, based on clear, independent scientific evidence which shows that the bioaerosol levels are and can be maintained at appropriate levels at the dwelling or workplace: and
The Agency will continue to work with DEFRA and others to identify appropriate controls measures that may allow operations to take place within 250 metres of the boundary or a dwelling/workplace.
The Agency will in the future identify and review the licences/registrations of all existing sites that may potentially affected by this position and assess the scale of impact. The timing of this work will depend on HSE research into dispersal monitoring and health effects and the peer review of existing research. Once of the scale of this impact has been assessed an action plan will be prepared and prioritised against existing Agency business planning priorities. No action should be taken by staff in relation to these sites until the HSE research is carried out and further guidance issued.
Any operator of a compost process which receives (or who intends it to receive) any food waste will be required show that such waste will be maintained at a temperature of at least 70 degrees Celsius for at least one hour, [MAFF - Sue Bolton, can we add the following? unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the material is under the direct control of the producer and will not be used on agricultural land.]


This position statement It has been produced as a result of the followingtwo recent pieces of information:

DETR and Agency research Health Effects of Composting and Monitoring the Environmental Impact of Composting Plants[1] shows that composting has the potential to harm the health of humans and animals situated for long periods within 250 metres of composting operations.

This position covers only aerobic recovery processes for biodegradable waste and therefore its scope is limited to the composting of separated fractions of municipal solid waste and to other facilities composting industrial or commercial biodegradable wastes which fall to be regulated by way of waste management licence or waste exemption.. It does not therefore cover treatment of whole/unsegregated waste or mechanically separated waste, such as MBT, though where such waste is being composted similar standards will apply as appropriate..

In this position statement, reference to composting means an aerobic, biological degradation process that produces a material suitable for recovery by spreading on land, used as cover at landfills or incorporating into growing media.

Background - Waste Strategy

Waste Strategy 2000 recognises that to develop more sustainable waste strategies, the UK has to move from an over-reliance on landfill, to more integrated strategies including energy recovery, recycling and composting. The Landfill Directive requires a substantial diversion of the biodegradable fraction of MSW from landfill and this is reflected in challenging targets for recycling and composting in WS2000. The net result is expected to be an. order of magnitude increase in the amounts of MSW composted. WS2000, as it applies in Wales, is currently under review. Targets for Wales will be produced in the waste strategy for Wales during 2001/2002.

Human health impacts

Under properly controlled conditions, including the location of the process relative to sensitive receptors, composting is an acceptable form of managing waste and provides a useful means of recovering biodegradable waste to produce a humus-like material. However, the biological degradation of waste, whether in a dustbin, landfill, compost process or anaerobic digestion plant utilises the action of natural micro-organisms and will produce odours, volatile organic compounds, and release bio-aerosols (air- borne micro-organisms, including pathogenic bacteria and fungal spores). These bacteria and fungi are released, mainly into the air throughout the composting process but are particularly prevalent during operations such as screening, shredding and turning. Levels of bacteria and fungi released are significant and, in particular, one fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, a Class 2 pathogen, can be present in sufficient concentrations to give rise to adverse health effects in humans.

While such effects may be most manifest in the infirm and those with immune deficiency, a significant minority of the population can be affected by releases of these agents at any level significantly above background levels. Additionally, if non-sensitive population is exposed, they may become sensitised to low levels of bio-aerosols.

Agency Responsibility

The Environment Agency is required to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health and without the use of processes or methods which could harm the environment and in particular without: -

  1. Risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals; or
  2. Causing nuisance through noise or odours; or
  3. Adversely affecting the countryside or places of special interest.

As with any other waste management process composting has the potential to adversely affect the environment and/or human health. In particular, research over the past five years has demonstrated that composting has the potential to produces significant environmental emissions in relation to noise, odours, dust and bio-aerosols (including bacteria and fungal spores). While noise can be adequately controlled through operational measures and dust is reported as unlikely to cause a nuisance to the public, both odour and bio-aerosols have the potential to impact on the public at some distance from the operations. A and, although they can be reduced they are an inevitable consequence of the natural biodegradation process.

The emissions from waste composting processes have the potential to contain sufficiently high concentrations of bio-aerosols to cause and/or exacerbate certain respiratory disease in some of the population. Research Onehas also shown that the main cause for concern arises from the thermo-toleranta fungus known as Aaspergillus fumigatus. Research carried out by DETR and the Agency has shownbut that concentration levels of the spores of the fungus are likely to be reduced to background levels within a distance of 250 metres from the source. The research also shows that 250 metres is probably sufficient to deal with other releases from a properly operated composting facility such as noise, dust and odour.


It is possible to take measures to reduce the adverse effects of composting. These include:

Clarification of Position

All permit applications or modifications should be accompanied by a site- specific risk assessment. Where an operation is proposed within 250 metres of a sensitive receptor, there will be a presumption against permitting or exempting unless the site specific risk assessment based on sound, independent, scientific evidence which demonstrates that appropriate levels can be achieved and maintained at any working or dwelling place whose boundary lies within 250 metres of the boundary of the site for which the permit has been applied. In making the above references it is assumed that the operator and their staff are not included as receptors in the risk assessment.

Modifications to existing sites will be primarily of concern where it is proposed that physical alterations or extensions to the site boundary will take the operations closer to a sensitive receptor. Modifications to the tonnage, or removal of containment (e.g. building) will only be of concern if these had specifically been introduced as mitigating factors for the justification of locating a proposal closer than 250m to a sensitive receptor.

For the purposes of the position independent simply means a recognised establishment, educational institute or appropriately qualified person who is third party to the proposal.

Reference to appropriate levels means effectively background levels specific to that locality. This may be judged to be de-minimus or the location may present particular circumstances that warrant undertaking background monitoring to establish a pre-composting base level, for instance where significant alternative sources of bio-aerosols are already present such as near a landfill.

Exempt facilities

The Agency has submitted proposals to DETR to change the existing exemption for composting (Schedule 3, paragraph 12). The proposals reflect most, if not all of the controls and restrictions considered necessary by the Agency and described in this position statement. In addition the Agency has recommended that certain composting operations be allowed to take waste from outside sources and then sent on for use by outside users. A charging scheme for registering and inspecting composting activities has also been proposed.

A Government consultation on the revision of Exempt Activities including revision to Paragraph 12 is expected soon.

This position should be taken to over-arch, take precedence but not replace existing guidance such as the current Internal Guidance on Paragraph 12 Composting Activities issued in February 2001.

[1] Health Effects of Composting - A study of three composting sites and review of past data, AEAT, to be published August 2001

Monitoring the Environmental Impact of Waste Composting Plants R&D Technical Report P428, to be published August 2001.


This briefing note has been issued to clarify the position on the collection of municipal waste for composting and its use on land.


The Government strongly supports the composting of waste, this is a vital component of meeting the Waste Strategy targets for recycling and composting and targets under the Landfill Directive to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste. The Waste Strategy made clear that the Government sees a need for a significant expansion in capacity for the composting of waste over the next decade. It is a key objective of Government to increase the amount of the organic waste stream which is composted and the Government has set targets to recycle or compost at least 25% of household waste by 2005, rising to at least 33% by 2015.

Composting is classified as a waste recovery operation under the Waste Framework Directive. In practice, this means that it is carried out under a waste management licence issued by the Environment Agency or a licensing exemption registered with the Agency. The objective of both types of control is to ensure that the composting of waste is carried out in a way which protects the environment and human health. Composting is carried out with the aim of producing a substance (compost) which is no longer waste.

Compost can be used as a soil conditioner, to improve soil structure and to enhance its biological activity, and a growing medium for the horticultural industry. The use of compost reduces harmful emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from landfills, it reduces the need for scare natural resources such as peat and it returns organic matter to the soil.

Sources of municipal waste for composting.

The majority (92% in 1998) of municipal waste comprised green wastes collected from civic amenity sites or local authority parks and gardens, with only 7% of organic municipal wastes collected at the kerbside.

Use of compost from green waste.

Where green waste has been properly composted and is no longer waste then there are no restrictions on its use on land.

Use of compost from mixed waste.

Where catering or household waste contains meat or other products derived from animals then, although it may be composted, it may not, currently, be used on land. The Animal By- Products Order prohibits the use of this mixed compost on land where animals (including wild birds) may have access.

However, this position, is set to change. The draft EU Regulation on Animal By -Products will allow the use of properly composted mixed waste on all land except pasturel land. We expect this Regulation to come into force in the Spring of 2002.

Separate Collection of Organic waste

The Government considers that local authorities have a key role to play in encouraging composting. An increasing number are setting up centralised composting schemes from separate household collections and from civic amenity sites.

The Government supports the collection of source separated waste and encourages local authorities to continue collection of kitchen waste. Until the new Regulation comes into force local authorities will need to be clear that they are using only green waste collected in this way in compost which is to be used on land.

June 2001