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  Home >> ALM / LACC >> EEB Comments to the Commission Working Paper on Biological Treatment of Biodegradable Waste from 20.10. 2000


EEB Comments to the Commission Working Paper on Biological Treatment of Biodegradable Waste from 20.10. 2000

Brussels, December 19, 2000


EEB welcomes this Working Paper, as it includes many of the environmentalist positions e.g. as to: 

o The promotion of source segregation

o The definition of common standards for the quality of compost, in the view of a conservation of the quality of soils across Europe

o The promotion of decentralised approaches to composting, in order to make it consistent with the “proximity principle” whenever possible.

EEB therefore asks for this Working Paper to be the premise for the issuing of a Directive.

Some remarks on the text do follow. 

Cross-reference to the Sludge Directive

Throughout the process of defining the Directive on Biological Treatment, it should be carefully kept a sharp difference among limits for: 

- compost from source separated, clean materials to be used as a product (not subject to permitting)

- sludge to be used in agriculture (subject to permitting requirements)

- Stabilised Biodegradable Waste, if complying with limit values as set out in annex III, to be used (under permitting conditions) only in land reclamation and landscaping

As to sludge we have to set a sharp difference between the Sludge Directive and the Composting Directive. The former should cover less qualified sludge, either composted or not; the latter should cover high quality sludge, when composted. The composting process should appear in both Directives, and when adopted under the scope of the Sludge Directive (i.e. for less qualified sludge) its end product should be allowed applications (such as public parks) restricted to thermally or chemically treated sludge.

The compost directive should anyhow include limits for detergents used in food processing industry (LAS and NPE). 


We would like to better define the following: 

(8) stabilised biodegradable waste- means the waste resulting from the mechanical/biological treatment of municipal waste or residual municipal waste

(9) “composting” should also include in the definition its nature as a “thermophilic process”

(13) “community composting” should also include the concept of the use of end product by the same group of people and should be defined more completely as the “composting of biodegradable waste by a group of people in a locality with the aim to produce their own compost to be used by they themselves”.

(14) mechanical/biological treatment - means the stabilisation of residual municipal waste, municipal waste or any (as in the original text).

(19) “residual municipal waste” - means the fraction of municipal waste left over after source separation including that of organic waste

Community-, home- and on-site Composting

We support the views of the EC, that is meaning to “allow” and “promote” Community Composting wherever social, urban and cultural conditions are suitable. Community and On-Site Composting plays a key role in many Regions in the UK, in Austria (rural composting run by farmers for some hundreds families at some 50-100 tonnes per year) sometimes in Luxembourg and outside the EU in Switzerland. It boosts public awareness and complies with the proximity principle.

We do agree that community composting, as long as the yearly compost production does not exceed 100 tonnes (fresh weight) should be exempted from certain provisions (permit requirement, reduced frequency for analyses, labelling). 

Home composting and on-site composting should always be exempt from permit requirement.

Separate collection

We support the Working Paper where it bans sink grinders; sink grinders have always proven to be a troublesome device as they: 

o Send biowaste into sewers, thus having much worse feedstocks as biowaste gets “polluted” along sewers by road dust, industrial waste waters, etc. In the view to Composting Directive preserve the quality of soils as much as possible, this pollution would then carry an additional pool – beyond background concentrations and quantities - of heavy metals towards the soil

o When generally applied, put sewers under the threat of misfunctioning 

o They give a much lower public perception of the waste problem 

o They do not give any advantage – contrary to what dealers usually boast – as to the collection of waste; only a minor part of biowaste gets actually shredded, and only a minor part of households can apply those (not to have the sewers misfunctioning ); therefore the collection has to be run with same features as before and this leads to overall higher costs.

Anaerobic Digestion and application of the Digestate

We think that some definitions and the cross-references to such concept throughout the Paper, could be a bit misleading. Readers could be led to think that it is mandatory to post-compost digestate, that is not always the case, and – as a reaction - this could lead to a claim for an unrestricted application of digestate 

In our opinion, digestate could be directly applied on land, though it should be considered as a “sludge”, thus submitted to restrictions to its use (and consequently the need for a permit), due to its phytotoxicity still relatively high, its high concentration in ammonia and mineral N, etc. This doesn’t mean it has to be composted in any case.

We do know that in some Member states – contrary to what happens in most situations

– AD plants yield a digestate that is then being spread on land with no further maturation / stabilisation (composting); this holds valid (and sustainable) only as long as there’s a proper planning for applications over the fields of many farmers. Should it be considered as a “product”, being allowed application without any further treatment as it happens with composted materials (provide they fall within limit values for heavy metals, inerts, etc) we would loose any control on applications; this would jeopardise the agro-ecological situation in those many sites where farmers could be ready to get a fee to have the digestate spread on their land, even at loads much higher than needed 

When post-composted, the digestate could acquire the status of a “product” and the further cost for its treatment (meant to fix much of the mineral N onto humus-like molecules, to loose residual phytotoxicity, etc.) would make not feasible any more the payment of “spreading fees” to farmers; instead it would push plant managers to develop marketing conditions for the composted end-products therefore it would be used only as far as its utility equals its cost, and over-loading would be avoided. 

Hence we think that definitions and governance of Digestate should be partially modified:

o We could accept that digestate could be directly land-applied, but only with restrictions and under permitting requirements (the same as applies to sludge) 

o Only when stabilised (post-composted), it could be used with no further restrictions neither the need for a permit, provide it meets the tight quality requirements for heavy metals as defined for compost in Annex 3.

Stabilised biodegradable waste

The use of stabilised biodegradable waste – when complying with limit values as set out in Annex III - must be kept as restricted to land reclamation and landscaping in oneoff applications.

Annex I

Annex I is missing the code 20 03 01

Sampling requirements

They should not apply to the stabilised biodegradable waste to be landfilled.

On the contrary, when stabilised biodegradable waste is to be used as a substitute of soil in those applications that are not destined to food and fodder crop production, sampling requirements should hold valid and SBW should comply with limit values as set out by Annex III.

As co-composting could be used as a way to dilute less qualified waste streams, the Directive should define conditions (sampling frequency and limit values) to control each waste input for composting to avoid the dilution effect (before the mixture).

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner