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Go-ahead for use of composted or fermented household waste

Date Published: 26/05/2011

Composted and fermented household waste are to be allowed for use in organic farming and horticulture for the first time, in a significant development for the sector.

Previously only suitably treated ‘green’ wastes had been permitted as sources of nutrients and soil improvers under organic regulations.

Now, following pressure placed on Defra by leading control body, Organic Farmers & Growers, to clarify the situation, it has been confirmed that source-separated household waste (that which is segregated into dedicated containers by householders before local authority collection), can be used as an agricultural soil conditioner or fertiliser as long as it is processed and certified to the recognised composting or anaerobic digestion standards.

The ability to use these materials could have tremendous value to organic producers who have high demands for suitable inputs but have to sometimes seek them off-farm – such as arable farms with no livestock of their own, or organic horticultural units.

However, there will still need to be some controls on the use of these materials, to ensure farmers and growers employing them continue to meet the demands of the organic regulations.

Standards for compost and the product of anaerobic digestion (digestate) are governed by PAS 100* and PAS 110** respectively if the resulting output is to be classified as a good source of soil conditioner or fertiliser for farmers and growers, rather than a waste attracting disposal licence costs.

Defra has clarified that, under the EU organic regulation, composted or fermented source-separated household waste is allowable as long as it has been certified to the relevant Publicly Available Standard.

Organic Farmers & Growers’ Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, explained: “This is very good news as it opens up a new source of good, sustainable nutrients to organic farmers and growers. We must stress though that it is not a blanket go-ahead for the use of source-separated household waste. The PAS 100 and PAS 110 standards allow for approximately twice the level of heavy metals than is permitted in the organic regulation, so farmers using these inputs will need to ensure they have the results of analysis on any supply they take and share those with us before applying the fertiliser or soil conditioner.

“The issue of being able to unlock the value of properly composted or fermented source-separated waste has been up in the air for some time now, so we recently pressed Defra for an definitive answer to the question and we’re pleased that it has now said it considers the product to be in line with the organic regulation.”

OF&G will be requiring its licensees to obtain approval before taking compost or digestate from source-separated waste. This will serve the dual purpose of allowing the control body to double-check the source for its licensees, to protect them from mistakes that could later lead to de-certification of their land, and to maintain the public’s trust in the integrity of the organic standards.

Mr Jacobs added: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to require prior approval for this, but we believe it is better all round if there is some oversight given that there is a degree of potential for errors. Technicalities aside, this could be a very helpful and important development which will allow many farmers and growers to tap into a resource that is created from what would otherwise be waste.”

As well as being a leading organic control body, Organic Farmers & Growers has been appointed as an inspection and certification provider for both PAS 100 and PAS 110. It is the only organisation in the UK in a position to certify to all three of these standards, serving organic farmers, compost operators and AD plants.

More information on OF&Gs’ services can be found


* PAS 100 definition from the Association for Organics Recycling (AfOR) website: “It requires the producer to establish a quality policy and management system to ensure compost that is fit for purpose. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point planning must be carried out and inputs are restricted to source-segregated biodegradable materials. Materials composted and the resulting composts must be traceable. PAS 100 also requires that customers are provided with information about where the compost was made and guidance on storing, handling and using the compost.

** PAS 110 definition from the Biofertiliser Certification Scheme website: “The PAS110 for digestate, derived from the anaerobic digestion of source-segregated biodegradable materials creates an industry specification against which producers can verify that the digested materials are of consistent quality and fit for purpose. If a biogas plant meets the standard, its digestate will be regarded as having been fully recovered and to have ceased to be waste, and it can be despatched to the customer under the symbol “Bio-fertiliser”.”