Composting - Technical Guidance on Composting Operations

Technical Guidance on Composting Operations - Executive Summary

Version 3
October 2001

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The Governments document Waste Strategy 2000 indicates that increased recycling of the organic content of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) through composting is a key area for action. The Landfill Directive will require a reduction in biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) to landfill of not more than 35% of 1995 BMW by 2020. This will require the processing of between 6-15 million tonnes of material depending on the definition of BMW and the growth rate of waste production and development of alternative waste treatment technologies. Nevertheless it has to be recognised that composting can have adverse effects on the environment and these operations, particularly large-scale facilities, require careful control. Currently there is no independent guidance on the composting of organic wastes.


The objective of this technical guidance is to promote best practice in the operation and regulation of composting facilities, with particular reference to:

  • composting techniques currently available, from windrowing to enclosed in-vessel systems;
  • regulatory requirements for composting facilities, including: legislation affecting sites, the role of the Environment Agency, details of the waste management licensing regime and the possible effects of new legislation such as Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Regulations;
  • potential environmental impacts of composting at a local level (some of which have effects at a regional and global scale) together with their control mechanisms (emissions and outputs which may affect local amenity, such as dust, noise and odour); and
  • operational requirements for the current composting technologies, including best practice, design and infrastructure and monitoring of facilities.

The Environment Agency is committed to producing guidance covering: the design, best operational practice, regulation and the role of composting in integrated waste management for the waste management industry, local authorities, community recycling facilities and other operations.

Information on the composting of controlled wastes can be obtained from the Agencys research and development projects, industry good practice documentation, and other sources. The project has not sought to set standards for the grading or quality of compost or to give guidance regarding any anaerobic biological treatment facilities.

Structure of the Guidance Notes

These guidance notes provide the basic information which is designed to assist potential composing facility operators and Environment Agency Officers in evaluating both existing and proposed systems for the composting of waste materials. The guidance notes are structured to take the readers through the composting process, the technologies, the regulations, the environmental impacts and operational requirements regarding composting.

The guidance notes are structured in four chapters and are supported by twelve appendices. The appendices, including a glossary of terms are designed to provide quick access to the guidance required for best practice and the licensing of composting facilities. The content of each chapter is summarised briefly in the following paragraphs.

Chapter 1 Background and Composting Technologies

Chapter 1 introduces the role of composting within the waste management industry. It provides an overview of the micro-biological information regarding the process and details how the process actually works. It also provides a brief overview of the existing composting technologies currently available, from traditional windrows to state of the art in-vessel systems. The advantages and disadvantages of the various technologies are also included.

Chapter 2 Regulatory Requirements

This chapter identifies the roles of both the Environment Agency and the local authorities in connection with composting. The waste management licensing and exemption requirements are listed and explained. The future impacts of new guidance and legislation are also covered in this chapter.

Chapter 3 Environmental Impacts

Chapter 3 introduces the potential impacts that composting operations can have on the environment. Sources of impact are identified, together with information on best practice techniques for minimising these impacts on the environment. Additional on-site considerations are also detailed.

Chapter 4 Operational Requirements

Chapter 4 deals with the design and infrastructural requirements of composting facilities and operational best practice for the main composting techniques. Health and safety at facilities is also included.

The Appendices contain information that may be viewed in isolation. Topics covered include:

  • Working plan guidance;
  • Guidance on shell licensing kits;
  • Standards for composted organic materials;
  • Stabilisation and respiratory testing;
  • Troubleshooting guide; and
  • Glossary and list of source materials.

Click here to view the full guidance document

Environment Agency, Version 3.0, October 2001

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