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North East chosen to launch ground-breaking “compost revolution"

  • Residents and organisations across the region urged to get involved

  • Campaign will help the environment, save money and lead the way for the rest of the UK

Enrich the Earth, a coalition of organisations including the National Trust, RHS and Horticultural Trade Association is calling for a radical rethink of how we handle organic waste in the UK and has selected the North East region to trial a trail-blazing “compost revolution” and show the rest of the country what is possible.


The compost revolution will be a collective effort to turn green and food waste into a valuable material for growing. This has many benefits including reducing waste; creating better quality soil; fighting climate change and helping protect nature.


The movement has three key aims:


1) To encourage more home composting

2) To make the most use of green and food waste by reducing contamination

3) To create a new commercial compost which is better for the environment by using more green waste


The Enrich the Earth collaboration is the first of its kind and brings together over 20 diverse organisations from NGOs and trade associations to horticulturalists and retailers. The movement is independently funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and has set out a number of ambitions:


Home composting


New research from Censuswide shows 33% of UK households compost. Enrich the Earth aims to increase this to 50% - if successful, this could prevent 2,500 rubbish trucks of waste needing to be processed each year in the North East.


Composting more would mean more nutrient-rich soil in our gardens, less waste in our bins and less need to buy peat-free compost. Not only does this save households money, but it also frees up key materials (bark, coir and wood fibre) for the horticulture industry to help them move away from using peat more quickly.


Enrich the Earth has been brought together by new environmental innovator Sizzle. Pam Jose from Sizzle said “Composting is an immediate step households can take to reduce waste, fight climate change and enrich our soil, helping our plants thrive and reducing the need for expensive chemical-based fertilisers. We’re inviting members of the public and organisations like community growing groups, universities, garden centres and restaurants across the North East to get on board and start composting as soon as possible. Wormeries are a great way to produce a fantastic compost from kitchen scraps so we’re hoping to boost their use amongst households and businesses too.”


Reducing contamination


Plastics and other non-compostable items that regularly end up in our green and food waste bins are costly to remove and reduce the potential for the materials to be used for growing. Enrich the Earth is calling for all households throughout the region to play their part by ensuring that only organic materials go into their garden and food waste.


Durham County Council creates compost from household garden waste collections at its site, Joint Stocks Compost in County Durham.


Cllr Mark Wilkes, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change said “Dog toys, garden chairs, astroturf and plant labels and pots are just some of the items regularly found in garden waste which cause huge problems when we process it. Garden waste doesn’t apply to any item found in the garden. It means plants, leaves, hedge trimmings, grass clippings – organic items that can be rotted down to make a fantastic compost. With the public’s help to reduce contamination, we can really show the rest of the country how to do it.”


Industry data shows that in 2021 almost 7% of materials collected for composting on a national level was contaminated – that's around 350,000 tonnes and cost £50 million to dispose of via landfill.


Northumberland County Council is currently trialling ways to improve the quality of food waste collected and the lessons from this will be shared with Local Authorities in the North East and across the UK.


Creating a new commercial compost


Enrich the Earth will work in partnership with Durham County Council to develop their processes to produce a new compost product which will be used in a range of planting trials and laboratory tests over the next 18 months across the region. The aim is to create a consistent, quality product that horticulturalists, commercial growers and households can use in the future. It is hoped that the new compost product will also be used by Durham County Council across its parks and gardens, demonstrating a true circular economy.


This regional source of a new compost product could provide a sustainable replacement to peat and will hopefully provide farmers and community-growing projects with a quality and locally- available product for growing food.


Cllr Wilkes said: “We are delighted our region has been selected to pioneer this trial to develop our existing composting processes to produce a locally sourced compost that will provide a peat-free alternative product suitable for growing and planting activities. We currently produce compost that is certified to BSI PAS:100 standard and these trials will help us to improve what we can offer to communities.


“In County Durham, we are committed to reducing our emissions having pledged to achieve net zero in our operations by 2030 and become a net zero county by 2045. Not only will this partnership save on carbon emissions by reducing the need for current methods of producing compost, such as extracting peat, it will also contribute to a circular economy by transforming waste from gardens into a valuable product that adds nutrients to the earth, rather than taking them away.”


Ben Allison, a farmer in County Durham has been using compost from his local authority composting facility for years. He said: “The quality of compost has really improved over recent years and I successfully use it to grow many arable crops. I think all farms should use local green compost as it’s not only helping fight climate change, but it also reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers which have become very expensive as a result of the war in the Ukraine. As a farmer growing crops, my soil is my bank account, using green compost helps to guarantee a plentiful harvest.”


The North East was selected for this campaign following an open application process with the winning partnership bid put forward by the North-East England Climate Coalition, Net Zero North East, the North East Recycling Forum, Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council.


Enrich the Earth will help people choose the right growing media for their aims; give people the tools to compost green and food waste in the home better; reduce contamination and enable local authorities and private sector green waste composters to produce peat-free compost products that are suitable for home and commercial growers.


Organisations across the North East have already confirmed dedicating time and resource to this project including commercial growers, local farmers, major multiples, universities and academics.


Organisations interested in getting involved can visit www.enrichtheearth.co.uk

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