Legislative framework

Any company or person wanting to run a composting facility now requires a Permit from the Environment Agency and planning permission from their Local Authority.

Environment Agency Licenses/Permits

An operator can process green waste material under:

  • A Paragraph 12 Exemption 1,000 cu metres of composting material at any one time.
  • A T23 exemption Came into effect April 2010 – only permits between 60 and 80 tonnes of composting material at any one time.
  • A full Waste Management Permit for 5,000, 25,000 or 75,000 tonnes of green waste material delivered to the gate per annum.

The rules and regulations associated with a Paragraph 12, a T23 and full Permit can be seen on the Environment Agency’s web-site:

Paragraph 12: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/topics/permitting/34785.aspx

For more detailed guidance on para 12 see:

T23 Exemption: For a permit see: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/topics/permitting/35436.aspx

Click on the detailed guidance which should apply for your site at the stated tonnage.

Old style licenses are currently being changed to permits under the Environmental Permitting Regulations which came into force in April 2008.

The Problems caused by Para 12 Exemptions

Para 12 Exemptions caused problems because, although the EA stated they were intended to process small amounts of material, they provided no guidance about the equivalent annual tonnage delivered to the gate. In addition the legislation was drawn up extremely badly which meant green waste material was not considered compost until it was shredded. In theory therefore, Exempt sites could have 100,000 tonnes of green waste material on-site awaiting shredding, in addition to the 1,000 cu metres of shredded material in windrows and no enforcement measures could be taken.

In addition Exempt sites can store material off the pad: under a Paragrph 21 Exemption operators can process up to 1,000 tonnes of wood waste a week (52,000 tonnes per year) and store a further 1,000 tonnes of wood waste ANYWHERE on their premises.Under a paragraph 7 exemption they could store 1,250 tonnes of ‘finished’ compost prior to spreading.

So, under an para 12 Exempt License operators could, quite legally, take 5,000 tonnes or more delivered to the gate per annum,an amount which should have forced the operator to seek a Waste Permit – a permit which, in many cases, would not be granted because there are houses, businesses or schools within 250 metres.

So, by applying for multiple exemptions, (and once the Para 12 was given planning consent, no further planning consents were required), then operators could avoid meeting the basic regulatory requirements and were not monitored leaving residents to suffer the inevitable consequences.

The T23 Exemption has been set up to avoid these problems and only permits sites to process between 60 and 80 tonnes of green waste material at any onr time.

By April 2012 all operators with old style para 12 exemptions must either reduce their throughput or apply for a pemit.
Storage and spreading of compost is controlled by a paragraph 7 Exemption:

Standard Permits/Bespoke permits.

After Oct 2006 a standard permit would not be granted if there were any ‘occupied dwellings’ within 250 metres of a proposed site.unfortunately this was not the end of the matter and the EA would then advise the operator to apply for a BESPOKE LICENSE which required the submission of a bioaerosol and odour risk assement. In theory (and sometimes in practice) this made it a much more difficult and expensive process.However, there was a lot of inconsistency across the country on this one with some EA officers applying high standards and others tickboxing risk assessments on the basis they have been written regardless of their standard.

The new Nov 2010 bioaerosol guidance ‘Composting and potential health effects from bioaerosols’ prevents any NEW permits being issued for commercial open windrow composting where there are sensitive receptors within 250 metres. For EXISTING sites a requirement for bioaerosol monitoring on a quarterly basis is being rolled out. We have grave reservations about how this monitoring is being conducted (see health impact section).

It is our position that the 250m buffer zone is totally inadequate. Any assurances about odour and bioaerosol control are unlikely to be met in practice for any site within 500m of sensitive receptors unless the in-vessel composting technology is used which fully encloseds both the processing and maturation activities (expensive). Even then problems can be experienced from greedy operators who overload their sites.

Planning consent

An Exempt License is usually granted before planning consent is sought.

In contrast to the Exemption, Planning permission must be in place before a Waste Permit will be considered.

Responsibility for Monitoring and Enforcement

This is a thorny issue. Under the old Waste Management Licenses in legal terms the EA and the Local Authority are jointly and severally liable, one via their License and the other via their planning consent.

In practice many residents were finding that neither organisation wanted to take responsibility. In addition, where a Local Authority is processing its own waste at a particular site, then there is a conflict of interest where the same Director is responsible for waste and Environmental Health.

More recently, under the new Environmental Permitting Regulations Councils are no longer able to use statutory nuisance powers to regulate sites already regulated by the Environment Agency.
Although we feel this is much more likely to result in Councils approving ridiculous proposals (as they no longer have to pick up the pieces), it is not all bad news. Local Council’s responsibilities for assessing the risks in the first place have been increased -see Environmental Impact Assessments.

So on odour we now rely on EA officers who do not respond to phone calls and can only attend site 2-3 days later when the odour has often gone! I believe there is also a problem with the new standard permits in that they do not stipulate detailed odour guidance. In practice this therefore means that residents close to these sites cannot expect any action by the authorities on odour.

At well-run sites:

  • the amount of waste processed by the site is strictly controlled
  • the waste is checked and unsuitable material is removed prior to shredding
  • the windrows are regularly turned to encourage aerobic decomposition
  • the material is left for a sufficient time for the composting process to complete (a minimum of 12 full weeks)
  • the resulting compost is carefully checked before being spread, usually on nearby fields

If these steps are not taken, the risks of odours and emissions from open windrow composting are greatly increased.

If an operator chooses not to follow best practice in order to maximize throughput and financial gain (the usual tricks being to cut short the composting period, failing to screen to a high standard, packing together windrows so that there are no adequate spaces to turn the material), then it is a very time-consuming and expensive process to monitor and force change so our experience is the Authorities simply don’t bother.

However, if residents can establish which Local Authority the waste

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is coming from they must be provided with tonnage delivered to a site if they make a request under the Freedom of Information Act. This at least provides good evidence of any overload at the site.