Management of grassland road verges is essential for improving the habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. Without some cutting, grass will dominate and out-compete everything else, also increasing management time and costs. Removing grass arisings reduces the fertility of the soil creating conditions favoured by wildflowers and other native plant species. In 2021 Oxford City Council made the decision to reduce cutting of verges to once a year on main roads and monthly on smaller road verges to encourage biodiversity as well as maintain visibility for drivers at junctions.
In the United Kingdom there is government legislation surrounding the disposal of green waste for horticultural and agricultural businesses. The main aim of legislation is the prevention of:
- Risk to water, air, soil, plants, or animals
- Causing a nuisance through noise or odours
- Adversely affecting the countryside or places of special interest
Although aimed at professional or larger organisations there are several best practices that community groups could take away from the legislation to dispose of grass arisings (and other green waste) safely and responsibly.
Although there is a requirement for some permits surrounding disposal of green waste not all businesses are affected and most operations for smaller organisations fall within registered exemptions. These exemptions can be applied for through the Environment Agency.
Relevant waste exemptions include:
- Spreading waste to benefit non-agricultural land, using waste as mulch, and spreading plant matter to provide benefits
- Treating waste on site by screening and blending waste in aerobic composting systems and associated prior treatment
Best practice of legislation
The legislation is divided into categories:
Subject to appropriate treatment, green waste can be used as fertilisers, mulch, soil ameliorants or to increase water holding capacity. Organisations should record where the material came from, what it was, where it was used and keep records for 2 years. This helps identify where any problems such as contamination came from or what mix of waste has benefits in usage.
Grass arisings and other green waste should be treated in separate bins or windrow system (both ideally dug over regularly by hand or machine).
Windrow system Bin system
Slow rotting materials must be incorporated well with others, these include woody material and autumn leaves, increasing the surface area of a composting site can help speed the process. However, chemically treated, and diseased material should not be composted to avoid contamination. The roots of many perennial weeds or seeds do not effectively break down in composting systems due to not reaching a suitable temperature, therefore these need to go to council sites or need to be killed off before composting (thoroughly desiccated or drowned until rotten).
Organisations must have a D7 exemption to burn waste in the open, ensuring all the measures from the legislation to protect people and the environment are adhered to. Certain diseased waste must be disposed of if a Plant Health Notice is received from the Food and Environment Research Agency or the Forestry Commission (or both).
If a site makes enough excess compost, it could look at selling it and become certified by joining the United Kingdom Accreditation Service Compost Certification Scheme. This assures quality compost and once certified is not subject to regulatory controls as it has achieved product status. Green waste can also be sent off site using an external registered company and potentially be used for biofuel or compost. There are risks associated if the green waste is contaminated and may get turned away. The costs and sustainability of transport methods need to be assessed and legislation requires waste transfer notes.
All storage of green waste should involve certain risk assessments:
- Green waste storage should be 10-75m from water to avoid leaching into rivers and streams
- Waste should be more than 250m from homes, and organisations must demonstrate that smells and toxins do not pose any risk to neighbours
Key disposal applications
For effective disposal there appear to be two options:
- Volunteers take arisings away (for home composting or taken to council sites)
- Sacrifice verge areas as dedicated arisings sites, which can create habitat piles for reptiles and insects. However, leaving larger amounts of waste in public view can encourage fly tipping
While there are options for volunteers to consider taking arisings for home composting or leaving on site, volunteer groups could form relationships with other managed natural sites in the vicinity, local councils, landscape contractors or farmers and private landowners who may be willing to assist with grass arisings collection and disposal. The British Association of Landscape Industries and Association of Professional Landscapers are two membership organisations that provide a directory of local landscapers. It is prudent to check how any partners dispose of green waste and if they follow the legislation.
Management of grass verges – Plantlife
Legislation – GOV.UK
Example of best practice of green waste legislation – English Heritage
Exemptions – Environment Agency