You may have seen that in the new version of the Certification Scheme Rules (compost and biofertilisers) REAL have imposed a levy on producers to fund research (you can see the scheme rules and more details here). It is now up to all producers to tell REAL what they want researched or changed with the current standards. They are inviting submission of research project proposals or ideas up until 10th of February 2019. These will then be considered by the research panel and CCS Technical Advisory Committee before a list of realistic projects being presented to all scheme participants in a survey, inviting them to rank the projects and to propose other projects.
I urge you to get involved with the process, either talk to REAL directly, or please let ORG know and we can collate member's views and pass these comments on. This is a brilliant opportunity to input into the process and ensure that the areas you are concerned about are addressed.
My views are that in the 30 odd years I have been involved in composting, the majority of the compost produced goes to agriculture and therefore we need a standard that works for agriculture. There are companies doing a fantastic job selling compost into the growing media world and other specialist markets who have to adhere to very specific standards so the current PAS100 and CQP is just a base line for those companies.
I feel for agriculture the current standard is not appropriate. Farmers and farm assurance schemes want minimal plastic contaminants in compost. Scotland already has a tighter standard on plastics so with an appropriate end standard it becomes easier to impose stricter input limits. It is utter nonsense to have a 5% limit of plastic contamination on inputs. This is something that government needs to change if it is serious about eliminating the scourge of plastic contamination. There is some indication within the recent release Waste and Resources Strategy that there is greater recognition that product quality is a crucial issue which needs to be addressed.
Looking at my analytical data over the years there are no real issues with heavy metals and I believe the vast majority of green waste and co-mingled green/food waste pass these parameters. On the other hand, I have concerns with the current PAS100 standard in relation to the limits for plant growth, stability, plastic, stones & E.coli. It seems to me that research should be focussed on these parameters and determine whether they are appropriate for agricultural use.
In terms of E.coli there is a wealth of data about the fate of E.coli in soils and I feel it is pretty clear that a different limit should be proposed based on sound science and still ensure soil safety. The current plant growth test proves nothing for agricultural applications and as far as I am aware there has never been any growth issues from PAS100 compost applied to land. The test needs to be more realistic to simulate typical use of 25 tonnes/ha of compost.
Ultimately I feel that the standard needs to be realistic for the most significant market, be enforceable, easy to monitor and check for compliance. The key issue for compost that is applied to land is to as far as possible eliminate plastic and ensure it provides agronomic benefit. The DG Agri project has already shown the significant benefits of properly produced composts. There is already substantial worldwide research on many of these issues so the actual cost of providing sound peer reviewed science on any changes should not be too great.
I encourage you to get involved and input your views. Let me know if you agree with my thoughts!