EA ‘open to reviewing’ ban on street leaf composting

EXCLUSIVE: The Environment Agency has said it is “open to reviewing” its ban on the use of street-swept leaves in PAS 100 compost if there is “clear evidence that new technologies and approaches” can provide material of consistently high quality.

This follows tests carried out by the Surrey Waste Partnership (SWP) last year which found a ‘low risk’ to human health from the county’s street-swept leaves being used in compost, as long as the material is screened and regularly monitored

Subsequent discussions with the Agency in November 2015 over Surrey’s test results and the future potential for using street-swept leaves in compost were described as “very positive” by the Partnership yesterday (January 6), and it hopes to publish further test results in 2017.

SWP said it is now seeking an operator to carry out further testing of street-swept material with a view to securing a bespoke permit to use street leaves in PAS 100 compost.

Should the Partnership secure any such bespoke permit from the Agency in future to compost its street leaves, it is thought Surrey county council would be the first authority in England to do so.

Since 2012, the Agency has prohibited the use of street-collected leaves to make PAS 100 compost due to fears over the supposed human health risk posed by physical contaminants – including harmful chemical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – in the material being spread to land.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman explained yesterday that while leaf litter collected from parks “is great for composting”, tests have shown that “leaves swept up from the gutter aren’t suitable for composting as they can be contaminated – we don’t want substandard compost to pollute land”.

However, the EA spokeswoman added: “We do remain open to reviewing our position in the future if there is clear evidence that new technologies and approaches have been developed to collect leaf litter of a consistently high quality.”

The ban has had an adverse impact on a number of local authorities’ recycling rates, including Surrey Heath council – which blamed a 5% drop in its 2013/14 recycling rate on no longer being able to recycle street leaf sweepings into compost (see story).

As a result, SWP commissioned consultancy Leap Environmental to undertake testing of Surrey’s street-swept leaves, and has subsequently been working alongside Resource London (LWARB and WRAP) and the Waste Network Chairs to discuss the findings of the study with the Agency.

According to SWP manager Tom Beagan, the Partnership is now “working actively” with the EA on the issue.

Speaking to this week, Mr Beagan, said: “We had a meeting with the Environment Agency and it was very positive. We had a good chat about the study which Surrey undertook, and agreed to further refine the testing methodology together in order for Surrey to carry out more testing ahead of the next leaf-falling season in autumn 2016.”

Mr Beagan added: “As part of this work, there will be thorough testing of feedstock going into the composting process to make sure the resulting compost is safe and comparable to green waste compost. We’ll be working with the Environment Agency throughout the trial and hope to be able to report some positive results in early 2017.”

Asked whether this would mean the Partnership would therefore be looking to enter into a contract with an organics recycler, Mr Beagan said: “It all depends on the results of future

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