The compost alternative
Composting projects offer alternative to incineration and landfill. Ann Phoblacht's ROISIN DE ROSA has been travelling throughout the 26 Counties to investigate a number of successful pilot schemes
Some exciting new developments in Limerick, Kerry and Wexford have driven a coach and horses through the 26-County government's incinerator plans, which it was hoping to railroad through the councils, region by region.
Councils in Wexford, Limerick and Kerry have already initiated pilot projects and developments in the handling of refuse which removes some 30% to 40% of household waste from landfill or incineration and, at the same time, produces a useful and valuable product, at very low cost.
These projects are just part of the story which M.C. O'Sullivans did not tell, or even investigate, when they produced their regional draft plans to the county councils, proposing incineration and more landfill.
Limerick: Composting up and running
Perhaps the most important development is in Limerick, where the corporation has given out two sorts of bins, black bins and green bins, to 2,800 households in the city. The green bin is for the organic fraction of household refuse, kitchen and garden waste. The corporation collects the green bins and black bins on alternate weeks.
The kitchen waste is taken to a central composting platform, at a transfer station beside the old dump, where the material is composted. This reduces the waste to about 30% of its original weight and produces a product which is then in high demand as a fertiliser and compost.
Pat Ayres, an environmental expert who works for Limerick Corporation, explains that ideally the Corporation would like to return the compost to the householders free of charge, for their own garden use. Because of the dangers that householders may not have kept all glass and sharp objects out of the kitchen waste they have separated, however, the resulting compost must be limited to commercial markets.
d these markets are widespread. They include demand for compost from the Parks Department, from the National Roads Authority, which needs compost for the sidings in road construction, and from Coillte as fertiliser for new forestry plantings. There is also the possibility that Bord na Mona may have an interest in using this compost for the production of briquettes as the bog turf runs out.
There is, of course, also the possibility that farmers may be able to susbtitute this compost for the nitrate fertilisers which, through run-off, have polluted so disastrously the rivers and lakes of the West of Ireland.
Limerick Corporation believes it possible that with 2,800 householders already covered in the scheme, the remaining 13,000 householders in the city could be drawn in within a matter of one to two year years.
The size of a composting platform which would have the capacity to compost all this organic waste would be between four and five acres. The cost of such a platform would be small in comparison with the costs associated with incineration, where we are talking of immediate capital costs of £50 to £100 million, figures which include no estimate of the resulting costs to health and agriculture.
Kerry: Composting in Tralee
Tralee has also initiated a pilot scheme covering 1,700 households, collecting organic kitchen waste and newspapers. Every householder has a black bin collected every week and a special brown bin, with ventilation holes, collected every second week, for the organic waste. Una O'Connor of Kerry County Council explains how the bins are taken to three collection points, and then taken to a composting platform eight miles outside of Tralee. The compost is laid in windrows and is regularly turned and shredded. The platform has a capacity to handle 500 tons of kitchen waste per annum. The capital cost of the platform and machinery was £43,000.
Una O'Connor says that the problems of extending the system to cover all of Tralee lie with such small organisational difficulties as changing collection routes and the purchase of the bins. It comes down, she says, to the question of how the council wants to spend its money.
The Limerick composting operation does not include newspaper. Although ordinary bond paper is easily composted, being 80% organic, newspapers, especially in bulk, are very hard to compost successfully. But as Pat Ayres points out, there is demand for newspapers themselves which, once shredded, provide animal bedding, and there is talk of a company coming to Cork that will use newspapers to produce insulation. This process is an exciting development because it offers a substitute for the use of fibre glass in insulation which is lethal to building workers who must install it, and worse, remove it. The particles from fibre glass are a similar health hazard to asbestos, although at present the building industry continues to rely on fibre glass materials.
There are particular problems associated with the supply of wheelie bins. At present, they are purchased from a company called Sulo, in Herford, Germany, at a price of £25 each. Amazingly, these bins are not produced in this country. Pat Ayres explains that if we were talking of expanding the scheme to all counties, we are possibly talking about a million bins. But then quite clearly over the coming few years, whether or not the councils decide to compost organic waste, there is no question that waste will have to be collected in bins. The days of plastic bags are gone. Although in these days of `fair competition' within the EU, the idea of import substitution seems as far off as ever.
Rural home composting scheme
Wexford County Council has initiated a different scheme again, based on home composting in the rural areas. About 1,000 composting bins have gone out, which the council hopes to expand to cover 3,000 households next year. If every household in the county were to use this method, it would reduce domestic waste for landfill by over 30%, well within the immediate EU targets which Ireland must meet. Central to the success of the Wexford scheme has been the back up of weekly visits by a team of eight FAS CE scheme workers, who advise and encourage householders on their composting. The compost product, which has been tested by the EPA and ruled to be of very high quality, is for householders' use on their own land and gardens.
``These are the very facts and figures which MC O'Sullivans should have presented to the councillors so that we could take an informed decision on the waste management,'' says Sinn Féin Councillor Arthur Morgan. His resolution to Louth County Council earlier this month has required the council management to call a meeting next month at which alternatives to incineration can be considered and costed.
``Instead,'' says Morgan, ``the government has tried to use the councils as voting fodder to force incineration down our throats, without proper consideration or understanding of the issues involved, or knowledge of what is already happening in other areas.''
Waste must be managed locally
``As it is two things emerge very clearly from the waste management issue on the councils,'' Morgan points out. ``The first is that MC O'Sullivans has not done the job it was paid to do. The second, and much more fundamental point is that the attempt by the Minister for the Environment to shuffle off the waste management strategy to private corporate interests is clearly in conflict with alternatives to incineration.
``Composting, which offers a great opportunity to deal with waste management in a way that does not waste our scarce resources, has, as a precondition of its success, the need for continuing responsibility for implementing waste management to rest with the local authorities.
``Instead of penalising householders for creating waste, through the imposition of ever mounting waste collection charges, the government needs to look to a system of rewards that encourage people to co-operate with local authority schemes of waste recycling and reduction.
``Councillors who have voted for incineration in their regional plans without considering these alternatives or demanding the information on what has been going on in Limerick, Wexford, or Kerry are in gross dereliction of their responsibility to the people.''