May 23, 2005 | General


BioCycle May 2005, Vol. 46, No. 5, p. 36
Voluntary standards and guidelines for compost were updated recently. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment is reviewing the changes to determine if revisions should be made to its regulations.
Susan Antler and Danielle Buklis

THE review of the existing standards and guidelines for compost quality by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is now completed and an update to the National Standard of Canada (CAN/BNQ 0413-200/2005) – Organic Soil Conditioners – Compost has been released. The SCC is a federal Crown corporation that oversees Canada’s National Standards System for the development and application of voluntary standards across products, services and systems.
SCC designated the Bureau de Normalization du Québec (BNQ), one of the four standard development organizations accredited by the SCC, to coordinate the development of the National Compost Standard in the mid-1990s. Originally issued in 1997, a formal review of the existing standard may be requested every five years.
Based on developments across the country and through cross-country discussions with members, The Composting Council of Canada (CCC), with the support of the Association Québécoise Des Industriels Du Compostage, requested the recent review of the BNQ standard. The initiative also was supported by all the provincial and federal ministries of the environment, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Canadian Adaption and Rural Development Fund. The review reflected the opportunity to assess both scientific findings and operational experiences and determine the appropriateness for any revisions to the existing SCC standard and guidelines for compost.
Because of the voluntary nature of the BNQ standard (i.e. individual composting facilities decide whether they want BNQ certification for their compost products), it was important to ensure that a parallel review process also was undertaken by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to incorporate any determined revisions into the legal framework as managed by the provincial ministries of the environment. This review is part of a multiyear, national process whose final objective has yet to be completed – namely, updates to both the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Guidelines for Compost Quality as well as to the Fertilizer Act and Regulations as administered by the CFIA. Of paramount importance throughout this process was to ensure the retention wherever possible of the existing harmonization that existed between the SCC/BNQ standard, the CCME guideline and the Fertilizer Act.
The final report from the CCME is expected to be released by the end of 2005. It will then be up to each provincial ministry of the environment to either adopt the CCME guideline in its entirety or as deemed appropriate for its jurisdiction. It is up to each province to individually decide what it wants to do.
The CFIA has been actively involved in all of the above discussions. This initiative – in addition to other issues which the composting industry has been called upon to provide support – could also result in additional reporting and management requirements regarding compost testing, labelling and product declarations.
The science-based review process championed by the CCC involved both committee meetings as well as a public review/ comment period. A 15-person, regionally-represented panel involving compost producers, end users and representatives from the CCME, CFIA, the CCC and other interests was assembled and met regularly over a 65 week period. Upfront, it was decided that the review would focus primarily on the current parameters of the standard (trace elements, pathogens, maturity and foreign matter content).
The following excerpts and Tables 1 and 2 are from the recently released SCC/BNQ document, Organic Soil Conditioners – Compost. Testing methods are identified for all of the requirements (see the full BNQ document for complete details of requirements).
Moisture Content: The moisture content shall not exceed 65 percent of mass, on a wet weight basis, for all types of compost.
Total Organic Matter Content: Total organic matter content, as a percentage of mass on a dry weight basis, shall not be less than the following requirements: Type AA: 50%; Type A: 30%; and Type B: 30%.
Foreign Matter Content: Table 1 includes information on foreign matter content. The standards and guidelines for sharp foreign matter are as follows: Compost of Types AA and A shall not contain any sharp foreign matter of dimension greater than 3 mm. Bag compost of Type B shall not contain any sharp foreign matter of dimension greater than 3 mm. Bulk compost of Type B shall have a sharp foreign matter content less than or equal to 3 pieces of sharp foreign matter per 500 ml, and the maximum dimension of the sharp foreign matter shall be 12.5 mm.
Trace Element Content: Table 2 outlines requirements for trace elements in compost. The trace elements content of compost shall not exceed the maximum content outlined in Table 2.
Microbiological Characteristics: The fecal coliform content shall be less than 1, 000 MPN (most probable number)/g of total solids (dry weight basis). The salmonella content shall be less than 3 MPN*/4g of total solids (dry weight basis).
Maturity and Stability: Compost shall be mature and stable at the time of sale and distribution. To be considered mature and stable, a compost shall meet one of the following three requirements: a) The respiration rate is less than, or equal to, 400 milligrams of oxygen per kilogram of volatile solids per hour; b) The carbon dioxide evolution rate is less than, or equal to, 4 milligrams of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide per gram of organic matter per day; c) The temperature rise of the compost above ambient temperature is less than 8°C.
Susan Antler and Danielle Buklis are with the Composting Council of Canada (

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