I have received a number of complaints regarding the smells and pests at the new in-vessel composting plant in Sharpness, Gloucestershire, which has been open since May - this is capable of processing 48,000 tonnes of organic waste each year. But what is the truth of this?
Photo: Randwick woods
Herefordshire-based organic waste processing firm Bioganix plc acquired an existing building to house the £4.3 million facility that processes municipal kitchen and garden waste as well as commercial food waste. They have been running since 2001, with their first plant in Wharton, Herefordshire, which has become part of Defra's New Technologies Demonstrator Programme. The second Bioganix facility opened in Parnham, Suffolk, in May 2006 with a 35,000 tonne capacity. Another, in Buckinghamshire, is apparently in the offing.
The company has developed its own “in vessel” composting process, which basically takes all the key elements of making compost in your own back garden and just accelerates them. The waste is pumped into two huge cylinders and carefully controlled, treated with bacterial cultures and passed through various stages until it emerges 100 hours later as usable – saleable – compost.
The problem in the past for such ventures has been keeping the smell inside the building rather than letting it drift off across the countryside. Indeed, it’s critical because planning approval for new facilities around the country often hinges on this factor. However Bioganix use “air scrubbers” connected through various pipe work, tubing and machinery which essentially clean up the air before letting it escape. The entire facility is kept under negative air pressure, which means when a door is opened the air is sucked in rather than sucked out. Even the regular delivery trucks are quickly ushered into air-locked delivery bays, away from sensitive noses.
Bioganix has attracted some criticisms at other plants - these criticisms have apparently waned. In Sharpness the criticisms have been loud and vocal in past months. The smells and flies have been unacceptable.
I have telephoned Environmental Health and found that Stroud District Council is visiting the site daily and monitoring smell and pests - the officers attended a meeting which was held a couple of weeks ago to try and address some of the problems with local businesses and residents. The Council Officers tell me that the Council don't have powers to act on this one - but are more acting to help understand the problem - it is the Environment Agency who have the powers - they can serve a notice or even withdraw the licence. In my conversation today with the EA Officer coordinating the case I got a much better picture of the issues and was reassured that residents complaints were being taken very seriously.
It is clear since that meeting things are better in terms of the smells - but by no means right. I telephoned the Operational Manager earlier today and had a long conversation with him - he admits things have not been good at times but is very optimistic that organic filters which take time to start working are now starting to work in the way they were intended. We will see - it would be a pity if such a useful process ended up with much bad publicity. We need to reduce landfill urgently.
Having said all that it has been interesting having a conversation with another resident of Sharpness who blames the smells not on this plant (although he did say it was not without blame), but on local sewage problems. He also mentioned that ships off-loading at the port also had all sorts of products that smelt - fertilisers being one product.
Clearly this one needs watching - I would also welcome others views on this as it is hard to get a true picture.