Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, Our Hungry Planet: Agriculture, People and Food Security. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds I’m Andrew Riddington. I’m the managing director and owner of Organic Recycling, ltd. Organic recycling is principally a composing operation. We will take somewhere in the region of 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of waste a year. And that will be supplied from Lincolnshire and Peterborough County Councils as well as from food processes prepackers based in and around this area. Composting is a natural process, and we need to make sure that we’re looking after the environment for the bugs to go to work. So the bugs are needing air. They need moisture. They need the right particle size. So we get a good density. And they need a balance between carbon and nitrogen.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds So our job is to create the environment to let nature do its job. We’re at the beginning here, and we’re taking a lot of the green waste from the county councils and we’re shredding the product so that we’re getting particle sizes between 2 and 20 centimetres. We then add the fruit and veg, which add the moisture levels and gives us the nitrogen. And then that is put into a windrow, which is a long wigwam shaped pile of waste, which gives the opportunity for the bugs to go to work. Temperatures will then start to rise, which is the natural process happening. And we are looking to try and get temperature somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds If it goes about 55 degrees, it becomes less efficient, and that’s when we turn the material. And we put a big 360 excavator onto the heap and we literally just move it along the concrete pad. The finished product comes out around 16 to 18 weeks later. So here we are at the reception end of our business. This is where all of the array of products will come in to be composted. We will take in grapes, oranges, and other fruits. We’ll take avocados that have either reached their sell-by date or have been condemned for other reasons by a supermarket.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds We will then mix them all together to make sure, again, that our carbon and nitrogen ratios are right, to make sure the moisture levels are right. And the bacteria– the naturally occurring bacteria– can go to work. So we produce these big heaps, and the bigger the heaps, the quicker the bacteria go to work because the temperatures rise faster. And it all has to be done on a concrete impermeable surface. The mixture is important for us to get right because if we get the carbon to nitrogen ratio and the moisture levels right, we won’t create so much odour and we will create a better quality product.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds So we’re currently turning the windrows, and as a result of the temperature rising to 60 degrees or more, we move the material down the side. The steam that is generated is as a result of the release of heat and the captured material it needs to be expelled. Towards the latter end of the composting process, the product is now ready for screening. It is put into the hopper and the good quality product comes out one end, and then the oversized material comes out the other end. The oversized material is then sold on to a power station and is used as fuel. And then the compost as a 20 mill product is then sold to agriculture– to local farmers.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds Because of the fruit and veg that’s come in, it’s good on nutrient level. So it’s good for nitrogen phosphate potash. And it has lots of trace elements. It’s also quite heavy, so it works as a very good soil improver for farmlands. So while we’ve been composting for nearly 20 years, about five years ago, we realised that there was an opportunity to probably do more than just composting and capture some of the energy that is lost otherwise through the process. That includes creating a biomass boiler, which will burn the oversized material. That will generate some electricity– about two megawatts– and about seven megawatts of heat.

Skip to 4 minutes and 41 seconds We’re also going to build an anaerobic digestive plant, and that will take a lot of the fruit and the veg away from the composting and it will also take agricultural waste, such as maze sugar beet, and hybrid rye grass, which will be grown on farmland in and around this area. That will produce around three megawatts of heat and also three megawatts of electricity. The electricity will be combined with the electricity we’ve been producing from 50 acres of solar. So it will make 18 megawatts of green energy that will be going into the national grid. The heat we’re going to use in glass houses.

Skip to 5 minutes and 19 seconds We’ve got planning permission to build 12 hectares of glass, and it will grow tomatoes, cucumbers, obojenes, cherry tomatoes– that sort of thing– In a controlled environment for 12 months of the year.

Skip to 5 minutes and 38 seconds So while most of the compost goes for agriculture and to the landscaping industry, about 10 years ago we decided to set up another business– a sister business– to organic recycling– Betterland Products. And Betterland Product’s job is to markets the quality products into high end market opportunity and to run a garden nursery. And we will grow somewhere in the region 150,000 plants using the compost that we make on site for hardy nursery stock, perennials, bulbs, grasses, and trees. And we sell them to the landscape gardeners and to garden centres locally to this area.

Skip to 6 minutes and 22 seconds So part of the reason that Betterland Products was developed was because we saw an opportunity to provide a peat free alternative to the national product you’ll see from the main suppliers of compost in the main supermarkets. That product is made from peat, which the government believes is from an unsustainable source. And peat free, from garden waste and composting such as ourselves, is a natural alternative that can be used and therefore saves the peat bogs from being dug up in northern England and Ireland, particularly. Organic Recycling has one of the largest composing operations in the UK and has been a forerunner in composting.

Skip to 7 minutes and 9 seconds And we were set up before things like the Composing Association or, indeed, the Association for Organics Recycling or, indeed, the Renewable Energy Association, which is our associated body. Legislation has always been a very major part of where we try to develop our business. We look to try and see what it is that is required next. First of all, it was landfill tax. It was then about peat free. It’s now going to be about energy supply, and we need to keep on top of what’s going on and try and keep one step ahead of it.

Commercial food waste

In this video, Andrew Riddington gives a tour of Organic Recycling Ltd, the composting business he set up in 1991, that grew to be the largest facility of its kind in the UK by late 2000.

Seeing a trend towards renewable energy, the business has now moved on to include: Solar PV, a Biomass Boiler, Anaerobic Digestion and a glasshouse complex. Using discarded fruit, vegetables and garden waste, the business will convert 150,000 metric tons per year into electricity, heat and organic based fertiliser.


Since filming this video, the trade and business of Organic Recycling has been transferred to Material Change who are now operating the Decoy Farm Compost Facility. You can find out more about Material Change here

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Our Hungry Planet: Agriculture, People and Food Security

University of Reading