Waste Technologies - Composting

Improving our waste management system is a key challenge that is currently engaging Ireland’s citizens and government. A primary goal in accordance with the EU Landfill Directive is to reduce our dependence on landfill in favour of more environmentally sound alternatives.


Biodegradable waste is broadly defined as waste which is capable of undergoing decomposition either in the presence of oxygen (aerobically) or in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically). It is also more commonly known as organic waste and includes materials such as putrescible food and garden wastes, paper, cardboard and, to a certain extent, wood and textiles.
Under Council Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste, all Member States of the European Union are required to reduce their landfill of biodegradable municipal waste and to encourage measures aimed at the separate collection, recovery and recycling of biodegradable waste.

It is envisaged that such measures will contribute positively towards the reduction of methane gas produced at landfills and impact significantly on other adverse effects on the environment arising from the disposal of biodegradable municipal waste.

Changing Our Ways
The Policy Statement - Changing Our Ways - preceded the development of the Regional Waste Management Plans, setting a primary objective of reducing Ireland’s dependence on landfill in favour of an integrated system of recycling and recovery infrastructure.

Changing Our Ways provided national targets for municipal waste recycling and biological treatment and set the framework for regional waste management planning.

Key targets for 2013 -

Diversion of 50% of overall household waste away from landfill
A minimum 65% reduction in Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW) sent to landfill
Developing biological treatment capacity of up to 300,000 tpa
Recycling of 35% of municipal waste
Rationalisation of municipal waste landfills to a network of 20 state-of-the art sites
Reduction of methane emissions from landfill by 80%.

Diverting BMW away from landfill will require a high level of source separation of food and garden waste, followed by biological treatment - either composting or anaerobic digestion. The aim of biological treatment is to produce a high quality, marketable product.

Home composting is suitable for garden waste and food waste of vegetable origin and can divert a maximum of up to 10% of organic waste. The target set is to treat 7% of all food waste and 40% of all garden waste by home composting in households with gardens.

Separate collection will, therefore, be required and the provision of composting facilities for garden waste and centralised biological treatment facilities for food waste.
The targets for central biological treatment are - households - 48% for garden waste and 30% for food waste by 2009 and commerce – 40% of food waste.







Home composting provides a way of reducing the amount of waste to be collected, thereby minimising the environmental impacts and costs associated with managing food and garden waste. Garden waste and food waste of vegetable origin are suitable for home composting. Garden waste from public parks and gardens should also preferably be composted on-site. International experience suggests that up to 10% of all household organic waste can be home composted and so diverted from landfill. To reach this level requires widespread participation.

What is composting?
The composting process may be defined as the controlled decomposition and stabilisation of organic materials such as vegetables, plant, food waste, garden waste, agricultural waste, etc. - under conditions that are predominantly aerobic and that allow the development of thermophilic temperatures as a result of biologically produced heat.

It results in a final product - referred to as compost - that has been sanitised and sterilised, is high in humic substances and can have a variety of uses. It is estimated that almost 50% of the total waste stream could be composted - it is nature's way of recycling and is an important way to recycle.

Composting is now employed as a treatment process for a wide range of organic materials such as municipal solid waste, sewage sludge and agricultural and industrial by-products. The current focus on composting is primarily due to the expected EU Directive on Biowaste and Sewage Sludge which, it is hoped, will lead to the diversion of organic material from landfill. The diversion of organic matter from landfill is necessary, principally because it can release greenhouse gases, which are a prime cause of global warming.

Ireland's record in this regard is not particularly good, compared to other EU countries, as can be seen in the figure below. In this country, 85% of biological municipal waste is sent to landfill - compared to 20% in Austria and 10% in the Netherlands. The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government has prepared a draft report on the National Strategy on Biodegradable waste (click here to see).

Composting Process
Organic materials received at the composting facility require pre-processing, involving four main activities, namely -

  • shredding
  • mixing different feedstocks together to improve homogeneity and adjust the carbon to nitrogen ratio and/or moisture content
  • optimising moisture content
  • removing very obvious contaminants such as plastics.

Composting is most rapid when certain criteria are present. The requirements for composting are - a carbon rich material, a nitrogen source, micro organisms, moisture oxygen and temperature.

Paper, leaves and wood are high in carbon, while grass clippings and vegetable scraps are high in nitrogen.

During composting, there is a generation of heat and loss of moisture.

In phase I of the composting process, initial heating takes place and readily soluble compounds are degraded (mesophilic phase).

During phase II, cellulose and hemicellulase are degraded under high temperature (thermophilic phase). This is accompanied by the release of water, carbon dioxide, ammonia and heat.

In phase III, curing and stabilisation takes place - which results in a drop of temperature and increased humification of the material.

If, during composting, there is not sufficient aeration, the composting process will be greatly inhibited and will result in malodorous material.

In Ireland, composting is still very much in its infancy. Cré - the Composting Association of Ireland - promotes composting and compost utilisation in Ireland with a particular emphasis on research and the development of an information storehouse.

To view current compost facilities in Ireland - Click Here

Bio Manage: Compost Facility Development

At Enviros Consulting, we provide the ultimate one-stop-shop for organic waste management. Our aim is to save you time and money by streamlining the development process.
With our leading position in waste treatment technology appraisal and selection - as well as our role as Manager of Defra’s New Technologies Supporter Programme - we ensure that your project is based on selection of the best available technology to suit your particular requirements.
Based in Dublin and Belfast for our Irish clients - from simple Windrow to complex MBT Plant, from on-farm Anaerobic Digestion to SRC and Biofuel Projects - we follow through feasibility, planning, design, EA, PPC, procurement, construction and commissioning stages, to deliver our client's expectations.

Email [email protected] for more information about our services in Ireland, or telephone +353 (0)18 13 1020.

Other Contact Nos:
Steve Last (Shrewsbury): +44 (0) 1743 284851
Mark Kelly (Belfast): +44 (0) 28 9046 3562

Corporate information - Click Here
BioManage Composting - Click Here
BioManage Anaerobic Digestion - Click Here
Waste Technologies - Click Here

Composting systems / technologies
There are different types of composting technologies - from a simple back-yard operation, or home composting - to a more sophisticated operation using centralised facilities such as windrow or in-vessel composting.

Home composting
Home composting is becoming more popular as local authorities are willing to subsidise the cost of the compost bin. It is a system that is greatly favoured by the EU. However, it is not possible for everybody to undertake home composting, as not everybody has space to do so. Home composting can take from a couple of months - if conditions are optimum - to up to a year or two years - if conditions are not ideal. It is estimated that up to 10% of all household organic waste can be home composted and, thereby, diverted from landfill. However, widespread participation is necessary in order to reach this level

Windrow Composting
Composting carried out in the open, is known as windrow composting.

Windrow composting is the aerobic processing of organic wastes placed in rows - either actively aerated or turned to promote aeration - resulting in the decomposition of material to form compost. It is a technique confined mostly to benign materials - such as the garden waste element of the municipal solid waste. The process may take place in static piles aerated through a sucking or blowing action. This removes the need for turning to provide aeration. In practice, the majority of windrow composting is done using some form of mechanical turning.

In-vessel Composting
In-vessel composting encompasses a wide range of techniques for the composting of organic material in an encapsulating environment. It is suitable for a wide range of organic waste materials - including food processing and catering waste. This is due to the enclosed nature of the process which can be controlled and monitored in order to develop a high enough temperature throughout the vessel for a sufficient amount of time to ensure the required level of pathogen kill. It also prevents vermin infestation.

New requirements in relation to animal by-products have increased the impetus for in-vessel composting systems and, therefore, the use of this composting system is likely to increase.

One disadvantage of in-vessel composting is cost - which is much higher than windrow composting. Another factor which needs to be considered is that, after a short period in the vessel, the material has to be cured - and hence, extra space is required for the curing phase.

There are many types of equipment available for in-vessel composting and these are varied. It suffices to say that they all have their advantages and disadvantages and the choice of technology will depend on feedstock, scale of operation, location, etc.

This is the process of using worms and micro-organisms to turn waste, particularly kitchen waste, into compost - a dark humus which is rich in nutrients with a rich earthy smell. It can be used as a soil amendment or even as a component of a growing media.

Mechanical Biological Treatment
If the organic matter is largely stabilised - but contaminated and not suitable for use in agriculture - the final product may be used for landfill cover, soil conditioning, applications in forestry - or may be fed into another treatment process, such as incineration or gasification. The practicing of this process is likely to increase in the short or medium-term, as source separation is not very common in Ireland and in order to achieve the landfill directive targets of biodegradable municipal waste.

When composting is considered to be complete, the compost material must be analysed. Some of these tests are obligatory - for instance, the EPA has a set of tests which the composted material must pass before it can be released. These tests consist of plant nutrient levels, stability or maturity, levels of heavy metals, foreign materials such as plastic and glass and microbial tests for human pathogens - e.g. Salmonella in the compost. However, additional tests may be carried out - e.g. suitability for proposed use - this often includes a growing trial with plants.

A number of EU member states - including the UK - have established their own standards. There is a need for the development of standards for Irish composts. This should include minimum requirements for the process of composting, selection of input materials, quality of composted material and information labelling of the product. Cré - the Composting Association of Ireland - is presently working on these standards and, at this stage, compliance by the compost producer is likely to be voluntary.

Applications of Compost
If there is not enough emphasis placed on the end-use of the product derived from composting, there is a danger that Ireland will end up with huge amounts of finished compost material with no ultimate use. Though there are numerous usages of composted material, the following are some of the major applications.

Compost as a soil amendment and mulch
In this case, the compost can be mixed into the soil. This will increase the water holding capacity of sandy soil, improve the aeration of heavy clay soil and, thus, improve drainage. Compost also inoculates the soils with a vast number of microbes. These microbes are able to extract nutrients from the mineral part of the soil as well as from the organic material.

Leaching losses of nutrients to the groundwater are reduced relative to chemical fertilisers. However, it is not likely to completely replace chemical fertilisers.
If a sub-mature greenwaste compost is used, it can soak up excess nitrogen from the soil and thus prevent groundwater pollution. This is relevant in relation to the Nitrate Directive.
It has also been found that plants growing in soils which have been amended with compost are less susceptible to soil-borne diseases. In this way, compost acts as a disease suppressant.

With the growing public demand to use less and less agricultural chemicals and an increase in using 'organic' methods of growing, it would be accurate to say that there will be an increased demand for composted material.

Other applications of compost as a soil amendment include the use on road side embankments, golf greens, sports fields, forestry, the manufacture of topsoil, nursery beds and back-fill for trees and shrubs. It can also be used as a mulch (ground cover to keep down weeds and hold moisture).

Growing media
Due to environmental concerns and the forthcoming EU Biowaste Directive, there is a big demand to reduce the quantity of peat being used in horticulture. One of the ways to achieve this is to dilute the peat with a suitable recycled material.

Research conducted at Bord na Mona Horticulture has shown that properly processed composted greenwaste can be used to dilute peat up to 30% without any significant decrease in the quality of the plants.

Composted material, by itself, cannot be used as a growing media except in very special circumstances.

Soil bioremediation
Compost bioremediation refers to the use of micro-organisms to break down contaminants in soil. Compost bioremediation has proven effective in degrading or altering many types of contaminants - such as chlorinated and non-chlorinated hydrocarbons, pesticides and explosives.

Compost biofilter
Compost biofilter is one of the most important biological processes used to treat waste gases and to control odour. The degradation activity derives from micro-organisms which live and develop in the media. Undesirable compounds in the gas are absorbed and degraded by the micro-organisms and high efficiency has been recorded for the reduction of VOCs.

Innovative Recycling Solutions for the 21st Century

Sustainable Recycling Solutions Limited, is an Irish company committed to providing solutions and alternatives to incineration and the landfill of waste. Faced with the EU directives on landfill reduction and pre-treatment of biodegradable waste prior to landfill, SRS has a solution which not only meets, but exceeds all of the regulations - using a proven, tried and tested system.
The principle of the SRS in-vessel composting/bio-drying tunnels is to accelerate and control the decomposition of organic wastes by optimising the natural composting process. It utilises a flow-through tunnel that exhausts all air through a bio-filter and transforms organic waste into a soil-like material in 14 days - while eliminating problems typically associated with composting, such as odour.
The SRS offering does not end with the in-vessel composting/bio-drying system, however. While the tunnels can transform source segregated organic material into high grade compost, it is not necessary for waste to be source-segregated prior to arrival at the waste facility.
SRS can also provide the client with a front-end, turnkey operation for complete waste separation. SRS is a market leader and specialises in the supply, manufacture and installation of bag openers, conveyors and conveyor systems, ballistic separators, trommels, shredders, wind shifters, weight systems and air filters.

Sustainable Recycling Solutions Ltd
Co. Meath, Ireland
Tel: 00353 46 948 7171
Fax: 00353 948 7199
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.srslimited.com
Contact: Eileen Connolly-Crehan


Organic material such as food and garden waste comprises 40% of biodegradable municipal waste.

A combination of home composting and centralised biological treatment facilities will be employed to divert approximately 45% of organic waste to biological treatment of source-separated material.

Meeting these targets can divert 21% of all BMW from landfill by 2009.

Targets for households for 2009 include -

  • Minimum of 30% separate collection and biological treatment of food waste (from households not involved in home composting) by 2009
  • 7% home composting of garden waste and food waste of vegetable origin – targeted in areas where separate collection not in place
  • 88% biological treatment of garden waste – 40% via home composting and 48% via green waste composting by 2009
  • Separate collection and biological treatment of 40% of food waste from commerce.

Households in both rural and urban areas, where there is suitable garden space, will be encouraged to compost their garden waste at home.

Particular emphasis will be placed on home composting of food waste (of vegetable origin) in rural areas where separate collection system for organic waste is not feasible.

Targets are based on 25% of urban households and 60% of rural households participating in home composting of food waste. All households will be required to separate garden waste and either compost on site or deliver to a local recycling centre.

Garden waste that is generated by green areas around multi-storey households should also either be composted on-site or treated at a central composting facility.

Separate collection of organic waste will be required in all urban areas, possibly extending to rural areas as part of an integrated collection system.

Community composting facilities are an emerging system at European level - where local communities can become involved in the management of their own wastes, whilst implementing the proximity principle and increasing awareness of waste recycling practices within their own community.

In Ireland a number of initiatives have been undertaken - for example at an urban apartment complex and as part of the Ballymun redevelopment project in Dublin. Other examples of where community composting might be applied include -

  • in relation to tidy-towns schemes
  • local composting of green waste from public open spaces
  • in residential housing estates - or
  • in industrial estates where groups of companies pool their resources.

Interaction with farming in relation to green waste composting and vermi-composting schemes may also be considered.

Capturing organic waste from commerce is required in order to meet the target for 2009. Food waste from larger enterprises should be collected in separate containers. The following commercial enterprises are particularly relevant:

  • Hospitality Sector – Hotels, Restaurants, B&B;’s, etc.
  • Canteen Kitchens – in major companies and institutions
  • Retail Sector - Supermarkets, Fruit and Vegetable Shops, Food Sector retails outlets
  • Businesses and Offices with kitchen/ canteen facilities.
Requiring separate container collection of food waste from commerce where food waste production is > 50 Kg/week will be considered. The penetration of separate collections into the commercial sector should be progressively widened to capture greater quantities of organic waste.
The overall capacity to treat source-separated food and garden waste must increase substantially to meet the targets set out. The current operational capacity must increase to approximately 350,000 tonnes/ annum in 2009.

The Environmental Protection Agency essentially has already adopted the treatment standards being promoted in the technical working documents associated with the proposed European Community Initiative on the Biological Treatment of Biodegradable Waste.

The principal treatment methods to be developed and controlled under the initiative are -

Green Waste Composting
Centralised Composting (‘Biowaste’ composting)
Anaerobic Digestion
Emerging Technologies

Biological treatment of BMW can be successfully carried out in tandem with other waste streams, such as agricultural wastes, organic industrial wastes, fisheries residues, etc. Co-treatment can provide economies of scale and encourage investment in the development of modern recovery plants.

Other local opportunities for biological treatment in a ‘cross-sectoral’ approach are also emerging - such as the composting or digestion of food waste on farms, or the development of composting plants close to sources of fish waste.
Such avenues can provide a sustainable solution - but regard should be had that the scale of facility and environmental controls are adequate to ensure full compliance with legislation.

Health effects of composting
There are minimal effects on the health of people working at compost plants - or to the general public near composting plants - if certain precautions are taken. However, one area of concern is bioaerosols. Gaseous emissions from composting piles can include bioaerosols (fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes) and fine dust.

At present, there are few studies on the health effects of composting from which any quantitative indication of risk can be derived. A report has been prepared by Cré - partly funded by the EPA -which deals with the risks associated with bioaerosols. Odour from compost plants can sometimes be a nuisance if the composting is not done properly - but if the pile is well aerated, it should not be a problem.

A Report entitled - “Assessments and Evaluation of Outlets of Compost Produced from Municipal Waste” (click here) - was published in 2002 by the EPA (ERTDI programme, under the 2000-2006 National Development Plan). This report contains a series of strategic recommendations in support of sustainable markets for compost. The Report recommends adopting a ‘Hierarchy’ for compost utilisation, aiming for high quality product linked to a high revenue market. It also identifies a range of potential market outlets for compost and outlines a possible scenario for what quantity of waste could be sold to each market.

The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DOEHLG) will seek to enter dialogue with the Peat Industry (and the Retail Sector) towards a voluntary industry initiative that will introduce peat extenders into horticultural compost products. Such a voluntary approach has been industry led in the United Kingdom where public pressure to reduce peat extraction was the motivating force. Inclusion of compost as a peat extender will require a very consistent and high quality compost to be produced from municipal green waste and biowaste.

Development of Horticultural, Agricultural and Forestry Markets Use of compost in conventional agriculture is a vast potential market, where even a small degree of penetration will create a significant and stable demand for compost. Developing farmer confidence and know-how in relation to compost is, therefore, essential.

A Quality Assurance Scheme is a market-oriented step that goes beyond the adoption of National Compost Quality Standards. The aim is to prove to potential buyers that the product has been independently verified as coming from a process that has produced a bona-fide and high quality material that will deliver the purpose it is intended for. Experience shows that market-driven quality schemes can have a positive impact on collection and treatment of organic waste as well as the end-product itself.

The EPA report identified a need for market plan preparation by existing and new composting facility operators. A guidance note in this regard would be a useful tool for the industry and it is recommended that the industry should lead the implementation of this initiative which is essentially designed for its members.

High levels of awareness and motivation towards composting will benefit source separation schemes and, ultimately, lead to better quality compost products in greater volumes. Better awareness will also help expand the market for compost. Responsibility for improving public awareness in relation to compost and composting is a shared responsibility.

Composting is a very economical way of treating organic waste. Not only is the volume decreased by up to half of the original volume, but also, a range of products can be developed. Public authorities and the public sector should encourage the use of compost. Public funds should be made available to develop new products from composts. In addition, the environmental standards should be similar to an 'average' European country - rather than being unrealistically stringent - which would impede composting in the Irish context.


Part of this article has been written by - and reproduced with the kind permission of Dr. Munoo Prasad.
Dr. Prasad is recognised as one of the leading authorities on composting and is Chief Scientist with Bord na Mona Horticulture, Chairman of the Technical Committee, Compost Association Ireland (Cré) - and national Representative at the European Compost Network


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