Returning organic waste to the land and thinking of it as a clean product has got to be part of the solution, according to farmer Douglas Taylor.
Douglas Taylor’s farm business, just outside Folkestone, Kent, diversified into green waste composting 16 years ago.
The family business, run in partnership with his parents, used to include a dairy enterprise alongside a 407-hectare (1,000-acre) arable farm of combinable crops.
But after giving up the dairy herd in 2000, the business needed a replacement to manure to apply back to soils. This led them to composting.
It took until 2003 to get the composting business up and running with planning permissions and a waste permit from the Environment Agency.
The business is now the outlet for 35,000 tonnes of garden waste every year from residential green bins and council recycling centres in East Kent.
Mr Taylor says: “The actual product is better than cow slurry for us, as the nutrients are working better with the soils and giving us better looking crops. We are still using nitrogen, but we have reduced our use.”
Waste – whether plastics, food or energy – is high on the public and policy agenda.
The UK Government banned the burning or burying of farm waste, including plastics, on-farm in 2006, putting a legal requirement on farm businesses to send it for recycling or landfill and incentivising attempts to reduce plastic use.
In Defra’s new Resources and Waste Strategy, announced late last year, the Government committed to further incentivising the adviser Philippa Arnold says the contamination of composting material with plastics is a widespread problem and Mr Taylor says he has rejected more than a dozen deliveries from council-run recycling sites so far this year.
He says: “We get a lot of fly-tipping with black bins chucked over a hedge onto our farmland, which we may not see until it has been shredded by a combine harvester.
But no-one talks about the contamination of recycling. If you don’t put it in the right bins, it wastes whole consignments.
The easiest way to stop that is to tell people at the tip not to put plastic in the green waste. A clean waste stream will lower costs for everyone.”
When it comes to farming and waste, attention has been focused on food and slurry waste, challenges of disposing of plastics, and the thousands of fly-tipping incidents reported on agricultural land.
In Europe alone, the climate change impact of growing wasted food has been estimated to be equivalent to the carbon emissions of almost 400,000 cars.
The Farmers Union of Wales called for the Government to help Welsh farmers recycle thousands of tonnes of plastic waste this summer after an agri-plastics company suspended farm collections.
Roddy McLean, director of agriculture at NatWest, says: “This year’s closure of Chinese recycling markets to UK waste has put plastic waste firmly on the agenda.
It is creating an In partnership with ‘circular economy’ and the re-use of resources and materials through legislation, penalties and taxation.
There have been calls for a UK-wide statutory recycling scheme to compel farmers to recycle plastic waste and give the recycling industry the necessary certainty to invest in new plants to turn it into useful second-life products.
In Ireland, there is already a recycling levy on all farm film plastics which are sold. This summer, Defra said it was considering the introduction of a plastic packaging tax across the UK to help tackle plastic waste.
For farm businesses, the coming waste crackdown is inevitably going to mean pressure in the long-term on minimising waste to reduce costs.
However, for Mr Taylor it has also created an opportunity to benefit from a rising demand for recycling outlets.
After initially just using it on their own agricultural land, the Taylor family’s composting business has expanded to sell products to neighbours, with about 40 per cent of the compost now sold off-farm.
Long-term, Mr Taylor says they would like to develop specialist products to sell to the wider marketplace, including landscape gardeners.
He says: “As far as farm diversification goes, it is producing an income for us today. If we had converted farm buildings instead, it would have been a big upfront cost that would have taken longer to pay back, whereas this has generated cash we have had to invest in both the farm and composting sides of the business.”
“This year’s closure of Chinese recycling markets to UK waste has put plastic waste firmly on the agenda. It is creating an additional cost and problem”
The business’ biggest challenge is plastics. NFU environmental policy additional cost and problems in the agricultural sector and is yet another example of the importance of waste management to the sustainability of any farm business in the future.”
But waste also presents new opportunities for some farm businesses, says Mr McLean, to establish more efficient practices, reduce the risk of additional costs in the future and invest in managing society’s waste.
Mr McLean says: “Waste is another example, along with climate change, new technologies and Brexit, of how agriculture can look to reinvent itself.
“Small businesses can capitalise by coming up with inventive ways of turning waste into a resource.”
The Taylor family, for example, is already planning its next steps in the sector and considering producing biochar, a charcoal produced from plant waste and stored in soil.
For more on succession planning, visit natwestbusinesshub.com, or email Roddy McLean at email@example.com