A significant part of government policy for waste management is focussed on diverting biodegradable waste from landfill.
The lowest cost alternative to landfill is open-air windrow composting (up to 2.5 m high rows of biodegradable waste in the open). The number of large composting sites in the UK has more than tripled in recent years to over 200.
Composting processes release bioaerosols, which are composed of fungal spores, live bacteria, allergens and respiratory sensitisers and can be harmful to humans and other animals. Human exposure to bioaerosols has the potential to rise over the next decade as a result of the increasing diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill to open-air composting sites and the use of similar matter in agriculture as a fertiliser.
A recent Institue of Medicine (IOM) review commissioned by Defra concluded that insufficient data were available to set exposure guidelines for most components of bioaerosols and identified significant gaps in knowledge of both exposures and health effects.
The findings of this work will inform policy and practice in the monitoring and regulation of composting, specifically future developments of Defra’s and the EA’s position on composting and potential health effects from bioaerosols and the Environment Agency (EA) / Association for Organics Recycling (AfOR) standard protocol for the monitoring of bioaerosols on composting facilities.
For the full report and summary, please see this Defra website: