We desperately need a renewed effort by LAs to follow their duty of care in this matter to ensure they only deliver clean green waste to composters and for composters to reject poor quality loads without penalty. Failure to tackle the growing problem of plastic contamination in organic waste inputs will lead to the demise of the composting industry and the loss of a valuable recycling route.
On one level, ‘policing’ plastic should be easy enough to monitor at household waste recycling centres (HCRWs) and not too difficult for kerbside collected waste, but it does require effort and commitment and this will cost! LAs must ensure their HWRCs are managed to have as close to ‘zero plastic’ and other contaminants, as possible.
We also need to send clear messages to residents about not contaminating their green waste or food bins. Social media makes this task much easier than it was 10 years ago. I believe most people want to know what to do properly and will, if asked in the right way, cooperate. In terms of communication, it probably needs the under 16s who are completely digitally connected to get an effective message across!
Now that our industry produces so many diverse products for different markets, managing our inputs is critical. In the early days of composting, green waste often meant ‘anything green’ to people, so encountering plastic chairs or lawn mowers in a load was a common hazard for an unsuspecting waste collector!
Thankfully much work went on to educate people about what was compostable and input and output quality thus improved dramatically. Furthermore, the development of the PAS100QP standard helped ensure the production of consistently good-quality compost.
Currently PAS 100 is under review. This is partly driven by concerns that quality standards are slipping - with particular regard to plastic contamination in organic waste feedstock.
In summary, we all have a responsibility to improve the quality of the material that we recycle as individuals, however, there is an imperative for local authorities to give this material the attention it deserves as one of the largest single resource streams.