BBC highlights green waste contamination problem

Green waste contamination highlighted by BBC

BBC One’s rural affairs television programme Countryfile has been highlighting the problem of green waste contamination, leading the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) Organics Recycling Group to call for better education on proper green waste disposal.

In an episode of Countryfile that aired on BBC One on Sunday (24 May), presenter Tom Heap revealed that the UK’s farmland is increasingly being contaminated with metals and plastics, as a result of non-organic materials being placed in green waste bins.

Heap highlighted the problem when visiting a farm in Somerset. He commented: “Biodegradable waste is big business these days … we’re producing nearly six millions of tonnes of green waste in the UK every year. That helps reduce the amount of rubbish we’re putting in landfill, and it can provide farmers with a valuable source of fertiliser.

“[But] there are claims that, in some cases, green waste is far from green. The most vocal complaints come not from farmers, but from metal detectorists. They claim it isn’t treasure they’ve been finding on fields fertilised with green waste. Instead, they’ve discovered a variety of metals, plastics and other rubbish.”

Speaking to a team of scientists on an archaeological dig at the farm, Heap found that metal contaminants, such as watch batteries, pieces of wire, and shredded drinks cans, are increasingly being deposited along with green waste, and are interfering with magnetic mapping devices used to find archaeological sites.

The leader of the archaeological dig, Dr James Gerrard, told Heap that contaminants are masking the responses they’re getting through geophysics: “If we can’t use geophysics, we can’t find the [archaeological] sites. If we can’t find the sites, when somebody wants to build houses here, those sites won’t be excavated, and that element of our history, that element of our past will be destroyed, gone forever.”

EA to focus on contaminated green waste

Jamie Pullen, who runs the farm, said that although the compost had helped increase crop yield by around 20 per cent, he was surprised by the level of contaminants. He noted: “The [Environment] Agency [EA] said it was safe to use, and we had a license, and they obviously licensed the product, so I obviously felt it was – with their blessing – it was obviously good to use.”

When asked about the problem of green waste contamination, Christine Tuckett, Deputy Director for Agriculture and Land Management at the EA, said:  “We would absolutely pursue [problem sites]. Those sorts of big bits of material that are there… could harm animals when grazing. Also, you may get chemicals mixed up within the waste.” However, the Tuckett said that although the agency did not “believe [contamination] is a huge problem” at this stage, it would be “investing more [in the matter] this year”.

Industry calling for better education

Visiting Agrivert’s composting facility in Ardley, Oxfordshire, Heap heard from one operative that had found microwaves and laptops in the green waste delivered to the site.  He then spoke to Jeremy Jacobs, Technical Director of the REA’s Organics Recycling Group, to find out what was causing the contamination of the compost.

Jacobs said the problem occurs when householders place the wrong materials in green waste bins, which are then not properly filtered out. Jacobs indicated that not all composting facilities have the proper infrastructure, noting: “As in all businesses, there are good operators and bad operators.” When Heap asked Jacobs if the REA had ever kicked out members of the association for producing contaminated green waste, Jacobs said the group hasn’t had to do that yet, but it’s about “educating them”.

In a subsequent press release responding to the programme, the REA noted that while most compost sites do have measures in place to remove material that should not be there, it is a time-consuming and costly process. As such, its Organics Recycling Group is calling for ‘increased awareness by the general public around what they put in their garden waste bin’ to ensure that ‘inputs to composting facilities are clean so that the agricultural market (the main user of most compost) is confident that they will receive uncontaminated compost that is fit for purpose’.

Jacobs added: “It is vitally important that the whole supply chain contributes to ensuring that the compost we manufacture and spread to land is clean and free of plastics. This starts with the householder doing their bit and continues with the local authority policing the collections robustly. Lastly, the composter also has an important role in taking out the unwanted plastics prior to it being delivered to farmers.

“We have a responsibility to provide end users with a quality product to enable our vital agricultural sector to thrive.”

Watch Sunday’s Countryfile programme, which features contaminated green waste, or find out more about the Organics Recycling Group.

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