Commentary: Growing The U.S. Composting Industry

Michael Virga

Michael Virga
BioCycle January 2013, Vol. 54, No. 1, p. 54

 

It is a great time to be in the compost manufacturing industry! After 15 months on the job as the Executive Director of the US Composting Council (USCC), I remain thrilled to be a part of this industry and passionate about the opportunities that lie ahead. In 2012, major emphasis was placed on growing as an industry, establishing strategic partnerships and enhancing public awareness of the merits of recycling organics. This Commentary considers each of these in turn.

Industry Growth: Our industry is growing. Month after month, publications like BioCycle chart positive trends in our industry and point toward a path filled with promise and opportunity. To accelerate the pace, the USCC will be busy in 2013 with several key initiatives. In January, we will be releasing our model rules for compost manufacturing, developed by a multistakeholder group of experts, to assist states as they revise existing regulations or promulgate new ones. The model rule template includes a three-tiered permit structure, with design and operating requirements based on materials composted and technology employed.  The foundation of the tiers is the feedstock categories, which are based on the materials’ potential risks to human health and the environment.

The model rule is anticipated to be a “living document” that will be periodically reviewed and updated as knowledge and experience in compost manufacturing and regulating continue to mature. Adoption of these rules will help mitigate the regulatory burden and streamline the permitting process for new compost facilities, enhancing opportunities to build infrastructure.

In March, the USCC will be launching the Million Tomato Campaign, a national initiative focused on promoting compost use. The campaign will bring together the nation’s compost producers, chefs, community gardens and food banks to help build healthy soil that produces sustainably grown, local food for the nation’s communities. Celebrity Chef Nathan Lyon, co-host of PBS’ Growing a Greener World and author of “Good Food Starts Fresh,” is the spokesperson for the campaign, encouraging community gardens to grow their own tomatoes in soil improved with compost and offering healthy tomato-based recipes for families.

Partnerships: The USCC continues to build strategic partnerships that will help the Council move forward on this path of sustained growth and economic vitality. The USCC’s efforts, particularly in this area, are based on economic theory and aimed largely at increasing and balancing both the supply of feedstock and the demand for compost. To increase the availability of feedstock that our members rely on, we support legislative initiatives to ban organics from landfills and seek opportunities to build awareness of the social and environmental benefits of recycling organic material. To increase market demand for compost, we collaborate with industrial and commercial consumers such as landscapers, landscape architects, golf course superintendents, green builders and designers, and state agencies responsible for transportation infrastructure.

During 2012 the USCC took that spirit of cooperation and collaboration to a new level and established formal agreements with Keep America Beautiful (KAB), the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the American Biogas Council (ABC) to develop and promote markets and processes for separating, recovering and recycling organics. With its vast network of academic institutions, KAB excels at promoting the benefits of using compost to educators and students. NRA and its many thousands of members offer incredible opportunities to increase the recycling of food residuals. The USCC collaborates with ABC on how to achieve our shared objective of keeping organics out of landfills. We will continue these cooperative endeavors in 2013 as well as formalize new synergetic partnerships with organizations such as the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA), the Water Environment Federation and others.

Public Awareness: The President and CEO of Keep America Beautiful, Matthew McKenna, called composting the next wave of environmentalism. That wave is upon us and we will ride it into 2013 and beyond.

In recent months, the USCC has been laying the groundwork for a national communication campaign intended to educate homeowners, gardeners and schools on the merits of using compost. That campaign will build on opportunities to engage the media in dialogue about composting. Recently, a reporter from the New York Times requested an interview with the USCC for general information about backyard composting and the composting industry, but was particularly interested in learning about processes for separating and recycling food scraps and, in her words, dealing with “the yuck factor.” As our conversation unfolded, her understanding of key concepts coalesced and her enthusiasm grew. By the end of the interview, she was animated and eager to report the reasons why composting organics makes better sense than setting them out with the rest of the trash — and to assure her readers that it’s not so unpleasant after all.

So where do we go from here? As proud as I am about the progress USCC has made, there is much more we can do. As we move forward, the USCC will build its capacity to address the core issues that are critical to our members. In 2013, the Council will boost our roster of members, diversify our streams of revenue, and expand our legislative platform and presence at the local, state and federal levels. In short, the USCC will continue to raise the bar in order to expand market opportunities for composters, our primary role as a trade association.

Michael Virga is Executive Director of the US Composting Council based in Bethesda, Maryland (www.compostingcouncil.org).

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