Quality, Quality, Quality

OPINION: Jeremy Jacobs, technical director of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), pushes the quality message.

You will have heard the Organics Recycling Group (ORG) of the REA beat this drum many times in the past, but there cannot be a better time to enforce this message to the whole supply chain in the organics sector than now!

The national psyche is better in-tune with the plastics agenda than at any time that I can remember in the last 25 years. We need to seize this opportunity with open arms to ensure that everyone does their upmost to improve the quality of feedstock – and subsequent outputs from both composting and AD.


Within the recent 25 year Environment Plan we have seen a pledge to ‘Eliminate Avoidable Plastic Waste by 2042’. This to me is in the very far distance and does little to address the concerns we have facing us now, which require more precipitative measures to force change.

We recognise fully the pressures that local authorities are under with respect to the provision of waste management services, when they have so many other demands on their shrinking finances, so this is not a case of blaming any one particular link in the supply chain – everyone has a role to play. We do have exemplars out there that are able to collect clean material from householders with only incidental contamination on account of targeted communications and strict measure imposed on householders. We need to shout about these and where possible, copy their best practice.


The composters themselves also have a critical role to play in cleaning-up the incoming materials BUT they should not be used as a MRF for removing unwanted non-target materials in significant volumes, this is not their role and the financials of this sector cannot support such activity if it is to provide a sustainable long term solution to the management of garden waste.

The principle regulator of our sector the Environment Agency (and SEPA, NRW and NIEA) are placing greater emphasis on product quality that at any time I can remember and anyway, we should not as a sector be condoning the wholesale littering of the countryside with shredded plastics. Composters themselves need to impose tougher limit levels on incoming materials, but too often I hear that this has the potential to jeopardise their contracts by them rejecting material at the gate, surely it is better to do this and elevate quality standards than revert to lowering the ‘acceptable’ level of inputs that composters accept?

AD operators

The operators of AD sites, I accept, have a different set of challenges to deal with. Many are accepting packaged food waste which they have to in turn de-package. The challenge for them is ensuring that their clean up technologies are effective at removing the plastics prior to their subsequent spreading to land.

In order to do this effectively, very expensive equipment is required. As with composters protecting their land-bank will be at the forefront in the minds of AD operators in order for them to secure long term tenure of land to use this highly valued sustainable fertiliser on in the future.

In summary, from the householder who fills their food waste or green waste bin, right through to the farmer spreading the compost or digestate, we all have a critical role in improving the quality of these materials and protecting the image of our industry as well as the environment we are using as a long term receptor. I implore everyone to support this drive to deliver a better outcome for all.