Sunday, 6 March 2011

Saturday 5th March 11 Community Composting Network Conference,

I woke early and thought that I should get up as I had to get going soon after 8.30.  It was 8.25 so I had a very swift bowl of cereals, said hello and bye to my brother and Katie, and the kids, and cycled off towards Norfolk Park, up Granville Road (so steep I had to tack, or zig zag) and then right and left onto Manor Lane.  There was another steep climb, but I was soon in sight of some ruins and the quite well preserved Manor Lodge.  I knew I was at the Discovery Centre, as I'd found it on Google Maps on Tom's computer last night.

So, Manor Lodge Discovery Centre, a new-build steel-framed building, with a green 'living' roof! Today was the AGM and annual conference of the Community Composting Network, which I've been a member of for years.  I parked my bike, covered my saddle (Brookes saddles shouldn't get wet) and got a coffee, once inside.  The Annual General Meeting was first, and was quite swift, probably about half an hour, and there were about 23 of us there I think.... much better than the previous one in December 09.  My only contribution was to revisit the idea that we might consider putting two stalwarts of the CCN, Nicky Scott and Richard Boden, who stood down after years of service in 2009 forward for some kind of recognition, or an award of some sort. They also do lots of other great work in the world of community composting, and of course, if they were to get some kind of award, the CCN would get publicity too!

Then the conference started, with a presentation about a new project, to investigate the possibility of getting Accreditation for the compost product made by community composters, a 'standard' or kitemark something like the fair trade products symbol.  There is already a standard, PAS 100, but this Quality Standard is expensive and onerous, and not really suitable for most community composting set-ups.  However, there are changes to the legislation coming in from the EU, which will make it much easier to sell the compost, and the new standard would take into consideration the wider social and environmental benefits of composting.  The CCN members have indicated that the standard should only be available for 'not for profit' composting operations, the feedstocks must be known (transparent) and local.  There are various other parameters such as the end-product requirements, the process.... which must have a good mix of materials, must achieve a thermophilic or 'sanitation' phase of above 45 degrees Celsius... above 55 degrees kills weed seeds and pathogens, must have the correct moisture content, and then undergo stabilisation so it matures and stops being phytotoxic.  There was debate about whether the finished material should be graded or riddled, but all agreed that the finished material should be free of animal and plant pathogens and propagules (destroyed with the correct time/temperature profile).  The finished compost would have to undergo occasional plant response tests, to check for germination and growth.  Sites would need to demonstrate they were dealing with any vermin issues, and keep adequate records. 

So with all these things, the CCN would need to work out how they were 'policed'... whether by other community composters, or by the CCN, or an independent body.  Lots of work yet to do on this one.

Then we had advance warning about some probable changes in legislation, the most exciting of which for home composters is that it is possible that the 'import/export' regulations might be relaxed.  In my experience, one of the barriers to home composting in urban areas, in small yards, is the regular question 'what will I do with all the compost?'.  At the moment, the official advice is that it must be used on the premises... so, in planters, on borders, on lawns, etc.  It would not be acceptable to give it to someone else to use, or to go and sprinkle it under a neighbour's hedge or around a park tree.  But this might change.  I certainly hope so!

Just before lunch we heard the results of the 'Micro AD' work the CCN has been working on.  In this country, Anaerobic Digestion is used in sewerage works and on farms, and is usually a very large-scale.  This technology takes biodegradable materials and puts them into an anaerobic environment where instead of composting, they degrade with methanogenic bacteria, and a gas comes off which is a mixture of CO2 and CH4, or methane.  Methane ('natural gas') is flammable and a useful fuel.  This is widely used in developing countries like India, Pakistan, China, and in Africa, on a small 'household' size.  There are very many designs, and the gas is often used for cooking... replacing wood or animal dung, which give off smoke when burnt on an open fire, and contribute to respiratory ill-health.  So the CCN Micro AD trial is one area where 'the West' is learning from 'The South'!  The different layouts of an AD project were described, and one of the biggest issues is the energy input needed to make the process work.  The Animal By-Products Regulations mean the material has to be pasteurised, heat treated, and the AD vessel must also run at warm temperatures. For more detail, check the CCN website on Micro AD.

I'll write about what happened next after I've had some sleep!  Suffice to say, I got home in one lump and spent most of the evening writing..... TBC

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