David Garrett from Garden Organic explaing how a 'Hot Bin' works

David Garrett from Garden Organic explaining how a ‘Hot Bin’ works

Since the beginning of the month local councils are having to pay around £100 per tonne of waste they dump in holes in the ground in Norfolk. Increases in the tax charged on ‘landfill’ (which makes up around 75% of the total charge) are becoming a significant cost to hard – pressed councils and by implication local Council Tax payers. So, in addition to the prime environmental reasons for diverting waste away for landfill, there is now an increasingly important economic driver. And this charge – which is planned to increase in years to come – could eventually help to make it economically viable to recycle a lot more of the stuff we stick in the ground – yoghurt pots and other hard plastics for example.

And the holes in the ground that readily lend themselves to landfill are also drying up, leading to controversial proposals for incineration plants which can generate useful heat at the same time. It is clear that reducing waste , re – using or recycling what we can, makes financial and environmental sense. This was the key message from a two day training course I attended last week, which now means that I can play my part in promoting sustainable approaches to waste – in my case and the 18 others who joined me on the training, as a ‘Master Composter’. In my case I don’t pretend to be an expert, as the title perhaps implies, more of an enthusiast expanding my knowledge and able to pass some of this on to others who can be convinced to recycle their green and food waste into ‘black gold’ – or compost for the garden if you like!

The local Master Composter scheme is run as a partnership between Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council and aims  to:

  • raise awareness of the benefits of composting to the public

  • encourage more people to compost at home

  • help those already composting to do so more effectively

  • encourage and support more community composting schemes

Those delivering the scheme are expected to give at least 30 hours of their time to preparing and delivering information and advice at events, to individuals, schools or to community composting schemes. There is a wealth of support and resources available to help in this including three sets of display materials, leaflets and rather natty digital microscopes so that you can see the mini creatures creating compost before your eyes – these are bound to be a hit with children and adults alike!

In the classroom- some of the trainee Master Composters

In the classroom- some of the trainee Master Composters

The two day training was inspiring , informative and lot of fun. After some introductory remarks about the scheme we were invited (‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ style), to take part in a quiz to focus on the sorts of mind boggling amounts of waste, money and other resources involved in the disposal and processing of household waste. We were then introduced to the different types of larger scale composting:

  • Centralised large scale purpose run, mainly open air facilities where large amounts of green and other organic waste are regularly turned and high temperatures achieved to produce a crumbly black material great as a soil improver
  • ‘In vessel’ or indoor facilities where material is once again handled on a large scale and the ‘cooking’ process begins inside before the material is transferred outside for ‘maturation’
  • On farm composting where farmers will create their own compost heaps from agricultural and animal waste
  • Community composting schemes where local groups offer to collect green waste from households, create compost at a central site and then give the resulting product back to eager gardeners

After a wholesome lunch we were whisked off to see two sites that rammed home the importance of composting, one landfill site the other an ‘in vessel’ composting unit.

Edgefield Land fill site- coming to the end of its life

Edgefield Land fill site- coming to the end of its life

 Edgefield Landfill site in north Norfolk, has been operating a good few years and is focused on filling in holes in the ground left by quarrying. Now into its last few months of life, this site shows how landfill practices have developed over the years. Once these holes were unlined and the ‘leachate‘ (nasty liquid) running away from the rubbish was allowed to do so without any monitoring or control, so the area’s water courses were expected to somehow deal with the poison seeping into them. Now plastic sheeting is laid in the holes and careful measures taken to both monitor the release of leachate and methane gas as well as drawing both of these substances off, the leachate going for reprocessing at a sewage treatment works, the gas used on site to power  an electricity generator which is contributing power to the national grid. As we stood atop the windy mound of rubbish already topped off with soil we could see the open scar of the remaining tip which is due to be finished off in the next couple of months at which point the site will be closed, grassed over, trees planted and monitoring continued.

Our second visit was to the Marsham Composting Facility of Norfolk Environmental Waste Services (‘NEWS’ – a wholly owned company of the County Council). This impressive complex (not far from Old School Garden in fact) has been open about a year and takes in green and food waste collected by local District Councils  and others (who are charged for the amount they dump). I turns it into soil improver which is virtually all sold to a local farmer for use on his fields – and he is impressed with the results, it seems.

Waste material is dumped inside the main building where it is heaped against wooden barriers and the process of activation is started. Temperatures of 60C are achieved and once this process is well underway the material is moved outside into various bays where air is drawn through it by fan- assisted pipes and the cooking process continues until eventually temperatures die down to achieve the final product, which is collected in tractor – towed trailers and deposited on fields or in farmyard dumps awaiting the right time to apply it. The first facility of its kind locally, there seems to be scope for more as green and food waste collection increases. It would be great if the public could roll up and fill their own trailers with this ‘black gold’ – I’ve used something similar on my garden and it not only does great things to the soil, it also is dark enough to act as an attractive foil for the greens and other colours of the garden.

 

The second day of the training began with an overview of the composting process. A jigsaw of location, organic raw material, heat, water and air combine to produce a chemical reaction which decays and decomposes the green material and encourages a host of micro organisms plus other ‘critters’ who contribute most to this process. We also had a fun exercise exploring how to ‘sell’ the benefits of composting to a range of different ‘characters’ (I pretended to be a female student who was keen to do her bit to manage her own waste!). We distinguished between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ composting, the former where relatively large amounts of material are brought togetehr at once to generate high temperatures and the composting process is relatively fast, the latter more suited to smaller scale, occasional additions of organic waste and which takes longer. Ideally, you need to ‘turn’ your organic material in ‘hot’ composting and don’t in the ‘cold’ system.

After lunch two experienced Master Composters, Russell and Mary Baylin, described their experiences, which included representing the Master Composters at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Party last year! Becoming Master Composters in 2007, this couple are clearly dedicated to the whole composting cause, having been involved in many events around the county and working with schools and individuals to help them make the most of their green waste.

Russell and Mary Baylin, experienced Master Composters

Russell and Mary Baylin, experienced Master Composters

We went on to examine the range of opportunities for ‘getting the message across’ as Master Composters as well as rehearsing the sorts of answers we might give to frequently asked questions. So, for example, we know that compost is ready when its is dark in colour has little or no smell, is crumbly and relatively fine in texture, and we can use it to mulch important, hungry plants as well as a more general soil improver, maybe as a top-dressing to lawns  and in potting mixes.

 

The afternoon concluded with an examination of different types of composting boxes/ equipment – including a wormery (from which you get not only lovely fine worm – cast compost, but also a liquid fertiliser) a japanese style composter called a Bokashi (involving the intermingling of a special bran meal with green waste) and the latest ‘hot box’ being developed to fast process whole bin loads of material in a few weeks. We examined the pros and cons of each kind and who they might suit. I’m hopeful that my local school, can get a Wormery as way of using up the fruit, salad and other food waste from school lunches for example.

 

Following a quick tour of the gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (our base for the two days) and a look at their larger scale composting facility, including leaf mould and loam making, we gathered up our folders, tee shirts and other resources and began to ponder how we can make the biggest impact on composting in Norfolk. I’m expecting to help my local primary school with its composting activities and we begin this on Thursday with a session with older children to look at composting and what the school already does, including engaging the School Cook to see if we can compost more kitchen waste to use in the School gardens! I’ll let you know how I get on!

Thanks to Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council Staff who made for such an enjoyable and useful event: Jane, the 2 Davids, Amanda and Alex

Old School Gardener

P.S. It’s International Composting Awareness Week on 6th – 12th May – decorate your own compost bin and win a prize! 

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