BioCycle October 2013, Vol. 54, No. 10, p. 44
The US Composting Council (USCC) — a trade association based in Bethesda, Maryland — has been concentrating on advocacy activities in 2013 that are making a difference at both the state and federal levels. Snapshots of these initiatives are provided in this column.
Bans with Plans
The momentum for building more composting facilities is clearly growing. Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts have all recently passed legislation or proposed regulations to keep organics out of disposal facilities. In Massachusetts, the USCC was part of a coalition called FOOD (Focus on Organics Diversion) that testified in support of the regulations to institute a ban on disposal of commercial organics. State-level initiatives that set the stage for organics diversion are strongly supported by USCC.
The USCC also supports its members in states where efforts are underway to weaken existing bans on landfilling leaves and other yard trimmings. For example, with USCC’s help, Michigan composters and their allies have turned back attempts to weaken the state’s ban for four years in a row, and will again this year. The Council has a matching-fund program to assist in hiring professionals to work these legislative battles and Michigan has effectively taken advantage of this program. While fighting these attempts to weaken composting mandates are important, our association also is working proactively to support policies that encourage organics recycling infrastructure expansion.
Starting a compost manufacturing operation can be challenging simply because permitting requirements can be so onerous. To provide assistance in developing more uniform regulations that protect the environment without threatening to put composters out of business, USCC developed a Model Compost Rule Template (MCRT). What started as an outreach to the Council from the Environmental Protection Division in Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, ended in a multiyear collaboration to develop this template for states looking to improve their compost regulations.
Written through a consensus process that included regulators and municipal and private composters, the MCRT has a straightforward, tiered approach with facilities that process more “risky” feedstocks in higher tiers that have more stringent requirements. It reflects a performance based, rather than prescriptive approach, allowing more flexibility in achieving health and safety goals. The MRCT can be downloaded at http://compostingcouncil.org/advocacy-resource-materials.
“Is this Fork Compostable?”
Compostable plastic resins are being included in organics diversion programs so composting facilities need to be able to effectively process them. But not all bags, forks or cups that claim they are compostable decompose in a composting environment in the same way. Therefore guidance for consumers has become a growing need.
To make some sense of the issue, USCC formed the Compostable Plastics Task Force (CPTF) to provide a platform where composters can address issues of labeling, standards, education and legislation in conversation with manufacturers, distributors, users and regulators. So far, the CPTF has created a Compostable Plastics Primer, produced labeling guidelines, worked on updating the ASTM standards, and provided feedback to the Biodegradable Plastics Institute on its label. It is also developing educational material for haulers, is helping to promote a Field Testing for Compostability Protocol for composters to use and is working to provide a toolkit for municipal recycling officials to use in communicating these issues to multiple audiences.
Twist and Shout!
The USCC has formed a second task force to address another potential source of compost contamination: persistent herbicides. While the large majority of herbicides break down quickly and do not impact compost quality, a relatively new class of chemicals does persist in the environment. Even when present at extremely low levels, persistent herbicides can cause noticeable disfigurement (typically twisted and elongated growth) and even death of susceptible plants. Since these chemicals replace more toxic alternatives, the U.S. EPA may have little motivation to rein in their use, despite the threat posed to the composting industry.
The USCC has issued a Position Statement on this topic and the Persistent Herbicide Task Force is developing an action plan to address the recommendations in the Statement. Elements of the plan could include a confidential reporting program to track impacts, negotiating with the chemical companies based on Producer Responsibility, developing tools for composters to prevent and address contamination, and using the EPA reregistration process to require compostability testing for all herbicides in the future.
Food Safety Modernization Act
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been charged with promulgating rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. This law is intended to significantly improve illness prevention, food inspection and outbreak response. Among the thousands of pages of rule-making proposals and comments, the FDA is proposing rules for compost that will be used on food crops — even though the USCC is not aware of a confirmed case of illness caused by commercially produced compost.
Though no doubt well intentioned, parts of the proposed rules are quite impractical, while others are believed by the USCC to be unfounded. The Council has written draft comments on the rule, and is working with like-minded organizations to present strong and consistent suggestions to improve it. The deadline for submitting comments is November 15. More details will be available this fall and presented at USCC’s 22nd Annual Conference and Tradeshow being held January 26-29 in Oakland, California.
Supporting beneficial policies while fighting detrimental ones is a core function of the US Composting Council. We welcome your support to improve our ability to do just that.
Lori Scozzafava is Executive Director of the US Composting Council in Bethesda, Maryland www.compostingcouncil.org