Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Treating and composting biodegradable waste

Treating and composting biodegradable waste

Your business may be able to treat waste biologically to produce a nutrient-rich material or biogas. If you produce biodegradable waste you can send it for recycling into compost.

You can treat biodegradable waste on an industrial scale by either composting or anaerobic digestion (AD). Composting is more suitable for fibrous materials. AD is more suitable for wet wastes and sludges that degrade easily.

If you treat food waste containing meat and fish, or other animal by-products, you must comply with strict rules.

Animal by-products regulations


Composting biodegradable waste

If your business produces biodegradable waste such as food, garden waste, paper and cardboard, you can send these for recycling into compost.

You must ensure that any composting business you give your waste to has the permits it needs to handle food and other biodegradable waste and to produce compost. You can get further advice from your environmental regulator.

Contact your environmental regulator

The cleaner the waste you send for composting, the higher the quality of compost and the greater the benefit for the environment. High-quality compost is used for gardening and farming. Low-quality compost is used for top soil to cover landfill sites.

Composting facilities on or close to farms provide farms with a less expensive fertiliser and cheaper power. Some farms and food firms are licensed to operate composting facilities and can earn extra income from this business.

In Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency and WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) have produced a quality protocol for making quality compost from different types of biowaste, such as food and garden plant waste. This protocol also applies in Northern Ireland. If you produce compost from biowaste by complying with the quality protocol it will no longer be classified as waste. This means it can be used without waste management controls such as transporting it using a waste carrier, or with a waste transfer note.

NIEA: End of Waste Regulations/Quality protocols-anaerobic digestate

In Scotland, SEPA has produced composting information.

SEPA: Composting

SEPA has produced guidance that explains when waste derived composts are fully recovered, and do not require waste regulatory control. This guidance replaces earlier guidance from 2004

SEPA: Regulation of Outputs from Composting Processes


Anaerobic digestion of waste

AD can be used to treat food and similar wet organic wastes. It takes place in a closed container, excluding oxygen. It is clean and relatively odour-free. It produces a nutrient-rich solid material called digestate and biogas containing methane and CO2.

The biogas may need further processing before it can be burnt to produce electricity. Electricity that you produce can be used to power the plant or exported to the grid. Alternatively, it can be used as a transport fuel.

In Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency and WRAP have produced a quality protocol for anaerobic digestate. This protocol also applies in Northern Ireland. If you comply with the quality protocol, your waste will no longer be classified as waste, so it can be used without waste management controls.

The Environment Agency: Quality protocol for anaerobic digestate (PDF, 629K)

In Scotland, SEPA has produced guidance on the licensing of AD plants.

SEPA: Composting and anaerobic digestion plants (PDF, 120K)

SEPA has produced guidance that explains how they will regulate the use and handling of digestate outputs from the AD process.

SEPA: Regulation of Outputs from Anaerobic Digestion Processes


Spreading waste on land

You may also be able to reuse your waste, such as paper or sewage sludge, by spreading it on land. However, before you do this, you must check what restrictions apply and whether you need a waste management licence or registered exemption, or permission from the Divisional Veterinary Office in Northern Ireland or Animal Health in Scotland.

Landspreading waste


Further information

Association for Organics Recycling: Composting information

Friends of the Earth: Anaerobic digestion briefing

Northern Ireland

WRAP: Buying and using compost

NIEA: Quality protocols


SEPA: Composting information

Return to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle landing page

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