The State Of Organics Recycling In The U.S.

BioCycle asked states to complete an organics recycling “Snapshot Survey” to collect most recent data on composting, anaerobic digestion and quantities of organics diverted.

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle  October 2017, Vol. 58, No. 9, p. 22

From December 2016 to June 2017, BioCycle editors collected the most recent data that states had compiled about organics recycling activities. A one-page questionnaire was completed by 43 states and the District of Columbia, primarily by officials in state solid waste agencies whose responsibilities include organics recycling. Data submitted was from Calendar Years 2015-2017.

The 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. survey requested information on both composting and anaerobic digestion infrastructure and regulations. While several solid waste agency officials who responded had data on anaerobic digestion activity in their state, the majority did not, as municipal and on-farm anaerobic digestion operations typically fall under the purview of other state agencies. As a result, BioCycle utilized other sources to collect data on anaerobic digestion.

U.S. Composting facilities by typeBioCycle considers the data collection process used for this 2017 report as a “Snapshot Survey” — essentially a snapshot in time of information available from states on organics recycling activities. It became evident in the course of conducting the 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. that fewer states have data available on composting since BioCycle conducted a similar survey in 2013 as part of the State of Composting In The U.S. project, led by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (see summary in “State Of Composting In The U.S.,” July 2014). For example, in some states, yard trimmings composting operations are exempt from filing annual reports with the solid waste agencies, thus no aggregated data is available for that category of composting facilities. Other states don’t have adequate staff to compile data that may be submitted via annual reporting requirements.
Seven states did not respond to the “BioCycle Survey of State Organics Recycling Activity” questionnaire: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia. However, BioCycle was able to utilize in-house data as well as obtain composting data for Illinois (from members of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition), Indiana (from a mapping project done by the Indiana Recycling Coalition of both composting and AD infrastructure) and Pennsylvania (through a District office of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection). In several cases, yard trimmings composting data from the 2014 State of Composting In The U.S. was utilized. All data sources are annotated in the footnotes of the tables in the complete report, 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S., available to BioCycle readers with a paid subscription. (For a subscription to BioCycle, which includes print editions and access to all material in the BioCycle archives, go to BioCycle.net.)

Four states returned the questionnaires, but only had minimal data to report. These include Alabama, Arizona, Iowa and Missouri.

State with the most … Composting facilities; Yard trimmings composting sites; Yard trimmings & food scraps composting sites, Multiple organics composting sites; Biosolids composting sites; Farm digestersThe Big Picture

The 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. snapshot survey found a total of 4,713 composting facilities. Table 1 breaks down that total number by facility types. Yard trimmings composting represents the largest number of operations in the U.S. — 2,698 or 57.2 percent of all facilities in the U.S. There are 249 composting sites that process yard trimmings and food scraps, and 620 that process multiple organics, which include feedstocks such as yard trimmings, food scraps, livestock manure and industrial organics. Massachusetts, for example, reports 185 composting facilities processing multiple organics and did not include any sites in the yard trimmings only or yard trimmings and food scraps only categories.

As noted, data on anaerobic digestion facilities came primarily from other sources — the U.S. EPA AgSTAR database for farm digestion (last updated in August 2017), the Water Environment Federation database on anaerobic digesters at municipal wastewater treatment plants (2014 data), and the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation for data on codigestion at wastewater treatment plants (2016 data). Only four of the 43 states completing the survey provided their own AD data.

Anaerobic Digestion

Based primarily on AgSTAR data, the 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. reports a total of 240 farm-based anaerobic digesters. Of those, 146 process only livestock manure, and 94 are codigesting manure with off-farm feedstocks that include food processing residuals, fats, oil and/or grease (FOG), dairy processing washwater, and commercial organics from grocery stores, institutions and other food waste generators.

Based on the Water Environment Federation’s biogas data primarily, there are over 1,200 wastewater treatment plants that anaerobically digest the biosolids produced. This includes treatment plants with digesters on-site, as well as others that transport biosolids to another treatment plant for digestion. Utilizing data from the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) and the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), 133 wastewater treatment plants are codigesting biosolids with high strength organics from off-site, e.g., FOG, commercial and institutional organics, food processing wastes, etc. WE&RF, CASA and BioCycle concur that there are likely more than 133 treatment plants receiving off-site organics for codigestion.

Composting Methods And Scale

Thirty-four states reported data on the composting methods utilized by facilities in their states. The results: Windrows—1,135; Static piles—409; Aerated static piles—170; and In-Vessel—81.

Thirty-eight states estimated the number of composting facilities by annual throughput. Similar to the 2014 State of Composting In The U.S., the vast majority of composting facilities — 2,364 — compost less than 5,000 tons/year of feedstocks. There are 429 composting 5,000 to <30,000 tons/year, and 194 facilities compost over 30,000 tons/year of material.

The full 2017 State Of Organics Recycling In The U.S. report, available at BioCycle.net, includes state-by-state data, and an analysis of organics recycling trends based on the survey findings. As discussed in this month’s Editorial, “Digging For Data,” our analysis highlights the importance of creating and utilizing a standard set of definitions when requesting data. For example, some states include mulch operations in their yard trimmings composting count. BioCycle editors thank all state officials who provided data for our 2017 report, as well as various organizations and associations that helped fill in the gaps.

Correction, October 5, 2017:
Values for composting methods were updated.
Values for number of facilities composting less than 5,000 tons/year and 5,000 to<30,000 tons/year were updated.

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