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Composting Frequently Asked Questions
Wasteology FAQ'sComposting FAQ's

 

Composting FAQ's

1. What is composting?

2. What is compost?

3. What can be composted?

4. Can composting manage all our wastes?

5. Is composting compatible with other waste management systems?

6. What are the benefits of a successful composting program?

7. Is composting new?

8. Does composting pose a health risk to workers or to those located near a facility?

ECONOMICS AND SITING A FACILITY


9. What is the cost of a composting facility?

10. How much space is required?

11. What approvals and site issues can I expect to encounter when planning a composting facility?

COMPOST QUALITY

12. Are there regulations or standards for compost quality?

13. What steps can be taken to ensure that a facility produces high quality compost?

END USES FOR COMPOST

14. Are there markets for the end uses for compost?

15. Is compost a fertilizer?

16. How can I get more information about composting?

1. What is composting?

‘Composting is the controlled biological decomposition and stabilisation of organic substrates, under conditions that are predominantly aerobic and that allow the development of thermophilic temperature as a result of biologically produced heat. It results in a final product that has been sanitised and stabilised, is high in humic substances and can be beneficially applied to land’. (Composting Association Large-scale composting A practical manual for the UK Jane Gilbert et al.) (Top)

2. What is compost?

‘Biodegradable municipal waste which has been aerobically processed to form a stable, granular material containing valuable organic matter and plant nutrients which, when applied to land, can improve the soil structure, enrich the nutrient content of soil and enhance its biological activity’. (Composting Association Large-scale composting A practical manual for the UK Jane Gilbert et al.) (Top)

3. What can be composted?

In theory, most materials of biological origin can be decomposed by aerobic micro-organisms, and so could be composted. These materials are frequently described as ‘compostable’ or organic. For example kitchen food scraps leaves and green wastes, agricultural crop residues, paper products, sewage sludge and wood. (Top)

4. Can composting manage all our wastes?

Approximately 50% of the waste stream is organic matter, composting can play an important role in the integrated waste management plans of any community. However, the remainder of the waste stream (such as items made of plastic, glass, metals, ceramics and rubber) cannot be composted and therefore termed as ‘uncompostable’. (Top)

5. Is composting compatible with other waste management systems?

Yes. Composting should be part of a comprehensive waste management system that emphasizes source separation, reduction, reuse, and recycling, and proper disposal of any residual material.
Some materials (such as paper products) can be recycled or composted. While paper can be composted, clean paper is generally more valuable when recycled. Soiled paper or paper that cannot be recycled economically can be composted. (Top)


6. What are the benefits of a successful composting program?

In addition to diverting a large proportion of the waste stream away from disposal, an effective composting program can produce a high quality soil amendment with a variety of end uses. Diverting organic wastes from landfill sites helps to conserve landfill space and to reduce the production of leachate and methane gas. (Top)

7. Is composting new?

Composting has been known to have occurred in China before 1900 and was probably exploited in the West after that date. Composting process for the disposal of waste rather than the production of humic substances was started in the 1920s. (Top)

8. Does composting pose a health risk to workers or to those located near a facility?

Some people have expressed a concern that certain microbes present at composting facilities and the compounds they produce may become airborne and endanger the health of site workers and those located downwind of a composting facility. Studies of concentrations of fungal spores and other airborne materials at and near composting sites show that concentrations are higher around some composting operations, such as turning and screening, and the levels drop to background levels within a short distance.
While airborne concentrations of fungal spores and other microbes at composting sites are higher than background levels, studies of long time compost site workers show no negative health effects.
Wherever decaying organic matter is present, certain microbes occur naturally. Spores of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus are commonly cited as a source of concern. Aspergillus fumigatus is one of the most widely distributed micro organisms on earth and is known to exist in almost every interior and exterior environment. People are routinely exposed to low levels (and occasionally high levels) of Aspergillus fumigatus without consequence. (www.composting.org.qna,html) (Top)


ECONOMICS AND SITING A FACILITY

9. What is the cost of a composting facility?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question - in part, because of the wide variety of local circumstances that influence the cost of waste management. An accurate estimate of the cost of a composting facility requires detailed knowledge of project specific criteria such as location, site conditions, waste composition, facility size and level of technology. (Top)

10. How much space is required?
The amount of space required for a composting operation depends greatly on a number of factors including the quantity of waste to be handled, the composition of the waste, the system design and operating conditions, and the length of time that the material will be on-site. Our in-vessel system requires a much reduced area compared to traditional windrowing, as a rough rule of thumb every 10,000 tons per annum requires 4000 sq meters. (Top)

11. What approvals and site issues can I expect to encounter when planning a composting facility?

Government regards composting sites to be waste management facilities which require formal approvals or licenses. To site a system you require Planning Permission, Waste Management Licence and if taking in catering waste or other animal by-products an approval from the SVS. Some exemptions are available (such as small on-farm waste facilities) from the full approval process, but they still require to be properly sited and operated. It should be noted that even these exempted sites require an approval from the SVS if animal by-products are to be composted. Most approvals are concerned about issues such as the distance to neighbours, local soil conditions and potential impacts on local water and groundwater. Proponents of composting facilities are strongly advised to consult the local government departments, environmental agencies and SVS early in the planning stages to discuss the location of the site and other approval requirements. (Top)


COMPOST QUALITY

12. Are there regulations or standards for compost quality?

There are no standards for compost in the UK. However you must comply with the requirements of the ABPR if composting animal by-products. There is a specification called PAS 100 which you can comply with and this can either be self-certification or third party certification. However, consultation with the Environmental Agency (EA) is required at an early stage to ensure that they will allow spreading of the compost even if you meet PAS 100. It should be noted that the compost produced from waste is still a waste under the law, even if it has undergone a fully licensed and approved process. Therefore the EA may require you to only spread on land if you can show it has agricultural benefit, or under an exemption which limits the amount that can be applied or on a fully licensed site, i.e. a site that has a Waste Management Licence. It should also be noted that in Scotland, the EA or SEPA, have stated that as long as the compost achieves PAS 100 or other equivalent standards then it can be spread on land without restriction. This is not the case in the rest of the UK. (Top)


13. What steps can be taken to ensure that a facility produces high quality compost?

The most important step in producing high quality compost is to control the quality of the material entering the process. This is most often achieved through source separation. Source-separated organics are those organic wastes which have been separated from potential contaminants prior to collection. Other contaminants can be removed through a pre-processing stage or by screening the final compost. Finally, the composting process itself can determine some characteristics of the final compost, such as maturity and particle size. (Top)

END USES FOR COMPOST

14. . Are there markets and end uses for compost?

Compost can be used in many applications depending on the quality produced and the quality of the product. High quality compost is being used in agriculture, horticulture, landscaping and home gardening. Medium quality compost can be used in applications such as erosion control and roadside landscaping. Even low quality compost can be used as a landfill cover or in land reclamation projects. Please see above for notes on who to ask before spreading of the compost. (Top)

15. Is compost a fertilizer?

Compost is not a fertilizer and should never be called one. There is the fertilizer Regulations which state exactly what a fertilizer is and this is dependent on the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous or NPK content. This is very strict on the levels required to be called a fertilizer. Compost is more properly described as a soil amendment or soil conditioner which returns valuable organic material to the soil. In addition, compost does benefit the soil by improving soil structure, aeration and water retention. (Top)

16. How can I get more information about composting?

Contact the Composting Association or WRAP. www.wrap.org.uk
www.compost.org.uk (Top)

 

 

 

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