Barber on... A greener way to compost waste

Every two weeks, something profoundly silly happens in our neighbourhood.

Nearly all the householders put dumpy bags of green waste outside their properties for collection. In many cases, there is a whole collection of dumpy bags lined up at the front gate.

A huge diesel lorry trundles up and down every street collecting this material. Then it gets transported 40 miles (64km) for composting. The end product is pretty good and can be bought by anyone, including the householders who contribute to the collection. But at what cost?

The cost of this exercise is well-buried in the civic budget, but I doubt that it costs much less than a £1 million a year, which amounts to many millions of pounds across the country.

I never see anything in these green-waste bags that could not be more easily be composted in the householders' gardens and used by them directly. Poorer households without gardens might care to contemplate that this service is only for those people who are somewhat better off. The bigger the garden, the more bags that get lined up for collection — even though they have more room to compost green waste on their own premises rather than having the local council take it away.

Whatever "green" credentials this procedure may have, it must be undermined by all those greenhouse gases that are expelled in the process of collection and by the thought that the money could be so much better spent on looking after our neglected parks and trees. Yet councils all over England are doing this, despite many of their councillors being perfectly well aware that it makes no sense.

The reason this nonsense persists is that including green waste in civic collection services increases the proportion of material that the council can claim to recycle. This is instead of getting down to the real recycling that householders and local authorities in other European countries regard as good citizenship. As for Britain, behind every daft local policy you will find a Government target.

Alan Barber is a parks consultant


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