Confessions Of A Compost Enthusiast

Lori Scozzafava

Lori Scozzafava
BioCycle December 2013, Vol. 54, No. 12, p. 38

I have a confession to make. Before becoming the Executive Director of the US Composting Council, I had been involved with recycling and composting for decades. I had no doubts that compost was all about soil/plant health and waste reduction. But since I’ve taken on this new role, I’ve come to understand that it’s so much more.

In addition to improving the soil structure, porosity, density, pH and organic content (thus creating a better plant root environment), studies have shown that compost has additional beneficial properties, including: Reducing erosion and storm water runoff by increasing infiltration and permeability; Improving water holding capacity, thus reducing water loss and leaching in sandy soils; Controlling or suppressing certain soil-borne plant pathogens; and Binding and degrading specific pollutants.

This means compost has proven storm water retention, irrigation reduction, bioremediation and erosion control capabilities that can, and are, being used to create environmentally and economically sound solutions. Today, compost is improving urban landscapes, helping to build bio-swales and rain gardens, restoring wetlands and replacing silt fences and straw blankets on highway and construction projects.

The US Composting Council (USCC) recognizes the huge potential of these less traditional compost markets and hopes to expand markets for compost in these areas. In doing so, we expect to see increases in the overall demand for compost and in turn, create opportunities for those in the compost manufacturing industry to build their businesses. It is my expectation that this thriving industry sector will then help to improve the environment, reduce climate change impacts and provide jobs throughout the United States.

Initiatives are under way at the USCC to spur this development. The plan is to take a multipronged approach through education, influencing policy and partnership building.

One example of this is an educational track that has been added to the USCC’s annual conference being held in Oakland, California (January 26-29, 2014). As part of the Forum on Healthy and Productive Soils, attendees will hear about: The Basics: The Role and Benefits of Organic Matter in the Soil/Water Connection; Landscape and Green Infrastructure Applications; and Case studies: Erosion control, green roof applications and more. Additionally, fact sheets are being developed by USCC’s Market Development Committee to provide guidance and examples on infrastructure projects, erosion control and storm water management. The committee also has proposed to develop model ordinances that can be used by state and local governments to specify the use of compost in projects such as building and road construction.

Strategic Partnerships

It is believed, though, that true expansion of compost use will come when those that design landscape and construction projects are knowledgeable about the benefits of compost and specify its use. The US Composting Council has been seeking to develop strategic partnerships with organizations that represent engineers, landscape architects, erosion control designers and storm water managers. These include such organizations as the American Public Works Association, American Society of Landscape Architects, International Erosion Control Association and the Water Environment Federation. An exchange of information has begun between these nonprofits with the common objective of getting science-based information about compost specifications and applications. Toward this end, USCC has attended conferences, and provided articles to facilitate this exchange.

The Council has also developed the Landscape Architect Specifications for Compost — an electronic guide that provides a series of short and long compost use specifications developed for various landscape applications. The goal in its development was to provide landscape architects, landscape designers, municipal agencies and other specifiers with compost use specifications in common formats where the appropriate information could simply be “cut and pasted.”

In summary, the USCC is working to develop nontraditional compost markets and wants to do more in this area. This said, I’m guessing there is still a lot more that I have to learn about compost and the compost manufacturing industry. But, what I know is true is that the opportunities exist.

Lori Scozzafava is Executive Director of the US Composting Council, based in Bethesda, Maryland. To learn more, visit the USCC website at www.composting council.org.

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