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Changes to UK’s waste regulations favour anaerobic digestion industry

New guidelines will see more crop residues turned into biogas and fertiliser — minus the costly permitting fees

Biogas producers will no longer need to pay for permits or waste handling controls to use fruit and vegetable by-products in the anaerobic digestion (AD) process, the Environment Agency confirmed earlier this week.1 This resolves a long-standing technical regulatory issue, which had presented a significant barrier to the use of commercial processing rejects and farm residues in on-farm and on-site anaerobic digestion facilities.

Previously, the addition of even a small quantity of these by-products (i.e., leaves and roots, or produce that is misshapen, bruised or undersized) into the anaerobic digestion process would require operators to apply for expensive permits and implement the same waste handling controls as a commercial food waste anaerobic digestion plant. Now that is no longer the case. 

“This regulatory boost will be the final piece in the puzzle for several on-site and on-farm AD projects that had been hanging in the balance — which is great news,” said Jeremy Jacobs, REA technical director.

The change to the regulations follows sustained campaigning from the REA on this issue, including a letter to the Hon Owen Patterson, Secretary of State for Farming & Rural Affairs, this past June. 2 In the letter, REA’s chief executive, Nina Skorupska, posited that this waste classification had heretofore brought a raft of additional and disproportionate regulatory restrictions on the transport and storage of digestate. Those same restrictions, she stated, also prevented the use of a wide range of materials such as root crops, spent grains and animal feeds which are surplus to requirement. “This is having the effect of making the use of purpose-grown crops the more attractive option,” Skorupska explained.

Industry feedback 

REA member Branston Ltd, a potato producer with sites in Lincoln, Scotland and the South West, is one of the companies set to benefit from the regulatory change pertaining to the use of crop residues in the production of biogas. Vidyanath Gururajan, innovations director at Branston Ltd, called the move a “step in the right direction” for encouraging the fresh produce industry to use anaerobic digestion technology to reduce its carbon emissions.

“I sincerely thank the REA for taking up this subject and seeing it through with Environment Agency,” Gururajan said. “We look forward to seeing this guidance implemented consistently across the UK.” 


1. Environment Agency: ‘Briefing note: Crop residues used as feedstocks in anaerobic digestion plants,’ 10th September 2014. 

2. REA: ‘Removal of regulatory barriers to the use of farm and factory residues in anaerobic digestion,’ 18th June 2014.

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18 September 2014
For once, a sensible move by the UK Government in the regulation of renewable energy technologies. Congratulations to REA in securing this.

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