Sometimes composting can smell…

At the Waterbeach Waste Management Park we ensure the recycling of 55,000 tonnes of food and garden waste into soil improver every year. The high-quality product is used by local farmers on a truly circular example of sustainable economic benefit for the local community.

The soil improver means farmers use fewer manufactured – and expensive – chemical fertilisers, and valuable nutrients are returned to the soil. Diverting this high carbon content material from landfill significantly reduces carbon emissions, and the remaining carbon in the soil improver is put back into the soil for crop production.

Sometimes, when we empty the in-vessel composting tunnels or turn the compost windrows at our waste management park near Waterbeach, it can cause residual odour despite following best available techniques to mitigate that impact. We’re sorry about this – it’s part of nature taking its course, supporting the rural economy and environment.

We try to minimise the impact of odours on local residents by watching the weather and wind direction, and of course through our daily odour monitoring and responding to any complaints.

We have invested more than £2 million in odour abatement techniques whilst keeping the cost of the soil improver at an affordable level.

Did you know?

You can ‘dig your own’ soil improver at the Waterbeach Waste Management Park! The soil improver is free to collect from our site and you can take as much as you like. More than 650 tonnes was taken by local residents in the last 12 months! You can also buy soil improver at Household Recycling Centres if this is more convenient.

Is it always waste I can smell?

No. Other sources of potential odour in the local area include farms, oil processing, anaerobic digestion, closed and operational landfills and sewage treatment. This is why it is important to alert us and the Environment Agency to any odour concerns so that they can be investigated and action taken – details of how to do this can be found below.

What do I do if I am affected by odours?

The Environment Agency advises the public to record three aspects: location, intensity and offensiveness. Recording the location is important as, when combined with wind direction, can help to determine the potential cause of the odour. See below for the Environment Agency’s guidance on recording and reporting odour.

The information should then be reported to the Environment Agency as well as the site operator. Every complaint logged by the site operator is automatically investigated and reported to the Environment Agency, and swiftly reporting problems helps the operator to address any problems much faster.



-          Record date, time commenced odour assessment, length of time the odour remained, time odour ceased and returned

-          Location (street name, house number or place)

-          If properties are occupied, if residents are at home, windows open on the property, washing out in the garden etc

-          Description of the odour and how it makes you feel

-          Are odourous activities or permitted sites visible, what can you see, waste being delivered/turned, emissions from fans units etc


INTENSITY (detectability)


0.       No odour

1.       Very faint odour

2.       Faint odour

3.       Distinct odour

4.       Strong odour

5.       Very strong odour

6.       Extremely strong odour

1.       Less/potentially offensive

2.       Moderately offensive

3.       Most/highly offensive



If you would like to let us know of any issues, please contact:

Amey Waterbeach: 01223 861010 / (not 24/7)

EA Incident Hotline 24/7: 0800 80 70 60

What causes the composting process to smell?

Ammonia is formed as the waste naturally composts, which can cause odour when the material is moved or turned. Sometimes delivered waste may be several days old or wet, and this can cause pockets of ‘anaerobic’ activity – this means oxygen levels in the waste are low and different bugs are at work, creating smellier gases as they break down the waste.

Compost is turned as it matures in order to maintain oxygen levels. This can reduce the likelihood of smellier gases being created, but it can also be a source of odour.

What about bioaerosols?

The Health and Safety Executive states that bioaerosols are naturally present in the air, so everyone is constantly exposed to them and mostly they pose a negligible health risk. Concentrations change depending on the weather and season, and typically are greater in rural areas, because of nearby vegetation, than in urban areas.

Because of the dilution effect in the open air, bioaerosol concentrations fall away rapidly with distance from compost being handled, mostly returning to background levels within 100-200m.

The compost windrows are near the edge of the Waterbeach Waste Management Park, more than 300 metres from the nearest property.

Compost at home!

You could set up your own compost heap or bin at home. Compost bins are available from garden centres and are made of durable plastic or timber. Some of the district councils in Cambridgeshire also sell home compost bins – check your council’s website for details or visit the Get Composting website. Buy one with a door on the front to make it easier to get the compost out of the bottom.

Don’t forget you can add vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds and some types of tea bags to your compost – but not meat or cooked food as these attract vermin.

Cooked food waste should be put in your food and garden waste collection so that we can compost it safely for you. Please note that in Fenland District, food is not allowed to be put in your charge for garden collections.

Join our mailing list

You can join our new Waterbeach Waste Management Park neighbours mailing list to stay up to date with our activities and events. Email and mark the title field as ‘please add me to the neighbours mailing list’.