Compost issues within an integrated waste management perspective

Here are some facts about composts that you will have to consider at the start:

  • Organic matter is the biggest fraction of household waste. In Europe it accounts for 30 -40 % of the household waste production estimated at 475 kg per inhabitant and per year (Source Eurostat).
  • Compost is typically a local business. There is organic waste in every city but the characteristics and possible uses of compost may vary according the context.
  • If not sorted, organic matters hinder the treatment of other fractions whatever you go for material recovery, incineration or landfilling

The graph below gives a view across the EU of the importance of compost production capacities in relation with other treatment capacities (source: European Compost Network)

Compost vs other treatment capacities across the EU (2015)

Planning for the development of composting facilities at regional level will lead you to consider 3 types of issues:

  • Operational: How to organise the activities on the slab? How much water is needed? What’s the quality of the compost? Can you add equipments to improve the quality of the compost?
  • Organizational: How do you implement separate collect for organic waste? Do you need quality standards or labelling scheme? How do you recover the whole costs?
  • Scientific: How to monitor the agricultural benefits? Is there any risk associated to possible contamination? What is the impacts on the soil protection?

However, the organic fraction of household waste is not the only product that can be composted. Other products like sewage sludge, manure or industrial waste can also be used for the production of compost (all these wastes are termed as biodegradable waste). Compost producers usually decide which product to use according to the available quantities of waste and the users needs. On the other hand, other treatment (anaerobic digestion, MBT, pyrolysis, etc) may be realistic options if the outcomes meets the needs of potential users.

Consider this on situation, the European Commission released in 2008 a Green Paper on the management of bio-waste in the European Union in order to steer up discussions on the opportunity to adopt new EU regulation to promote composting with an integrated waste management perspective.

This green paper was backed by a comprehensive study entitled “assessment of the options to improve the management of bio-waste in the European Union” that came up with 4 policy scenarios which were submitted to an indepth costs / benefits analysis and lead to a discussion on the following variables:

  • Food waste prevention;
  • Home composting;
  • Collection methods (including separate collection);
  • Composting and anaerobic digestion (including electricity production, vehicle fuel substitution and gas to grid variants);
  • Incineration (including electricity only and combined heat and power variants);
  • Landfill;
  • Switching from landfill to organic treatment systems;
  • Switching from incineration to anaerobic digestion;

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