June 21, 2007 | General

Florida Embarks On Composting Regulations Update

BioCycle June 2007, Vol. 48, No. 6, p. 33
The vast majority of Florida’s organics recycling takes place at chipping and grinding operations. A new effort is under way to revise state rules to enable facilities to compost source separated organics streams.
Peter Engel and Miriam Zimms

THE ORGANICS recycling industry and regulators in Florida recently began work to update the state’s composting regulations and thereby increase opportunities to divert organics. In late 2006, the Florida Organics Recycling Center for Excellence (FORCE) completed the Florida Composting Regulatory Report. FORCE is a legislatively funded project promoting organics recycling, education, marketing, and research in Florida. Its office is in Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter County.
The report, completed by Kessler Consulting, Inc., serves three key purposes: documenting how other states have balanced the desire to encourage organics recycling with the need to protect the environment; building momentum to revise the Florida rules; and assisting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) by consolidating information that will be useful during the revision process. “The report does a good job of summarizing compost regulations in several other states and making comparisons to Florida’s current regulations,” says Richard Tedder, Program Administrator in FDEP’s Solid Waste Section.
In early May 2007, FDEP convened a meeting with the organics recycling community. Over 60 people attended, demonstrating the level of interest and commitment in the state to update the composting regulations and invigorate organics recovery. At the meeting, FDEP committed to forming a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and working to revise portions of the composting rule in the next year to enable facilities to more easily handle source separated organics. “We are interested in making some changes to our rule,” adds Tedder. “The report includes helpful suggestions on what Florida DEP can do to try to provide more flexibility for processors who want to do organics recycling on a smaller scale in Florida and not be strictly limited to obtaining either a yard trash processing facility registration or a full blown compost permit. We are hoping to add some in-between steps.”
For a variety of reasons – regulatory, waste composition and marketplace dynamics – the vast majority of Florida’s organics recycling takes place at chipping and grinding facilities that produce mulches, biofuel, land application materials, soil amendments, and soil-mix ingredients. Very little of Florida’s yard trimmings are truly composted (i.e., complete decomposition into a stable, mature humus-like product).
The volume and composition of Florida “yard trash” (the name for yard trimmings in the state regulations) have always been an impediment to composting. The state’s subtropical climate means large quantities and year-round generation of yard trimmings. Much of it is woody material (palm fronds and brush) that takes a long time to fully decompose. Thus, composting facilities would need to be very large in order to accommodate the longer retention time necessary for yard trimmings only.
Existing regulations strongly favor processing over composting because all facilities not covered by the limited exemptions or yard trash registration must obtain a full permit. As it is, if a facility wished to compost nitrogenous waste (such as source separated food waste) with yard trimmings, it must obtain a solid waste management permit.
The massive amounts of storm debris generated are challenging as well, as demonstrated by the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes. One recommendation resulting from those years is to provide an expedited licensing process so existing yard trimmings processing facilities can help with storm debris from natural disasters.
Currently, very little of Florida’s other organic waste is diverted. Businesses and residents in Florida generate copious amounts of organic waste other than yard trimmings, and in 2003 only 4 percent was diverted from disposal, according to available statistics.
Many states encourage residential and commercial food residuals composting, including incorporating them into yard trimmings composting facilities. For the report, seven states were chosen representing a range of regulatory approaches to promote organic waste diversion while safeguarding public health and the environment: California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.
Regulations from these states were analyzed with regard to: Regulatory categories of facilities (e.g., exemptions, notification, permit-by-rule, registration, and full permit); Siting, design and operating requirements for each category of facility; Pathogen reduction (PR) and vector attraction reduction (VAR) requirements; Heavy metal standards; and Compost classification and utilization requirements.
Examples of how other states make organic recycling easier than Florida include:
California: Research facilities are eligible for simplified permitting procedures if they have less than 5,000 cubic yards (cy) on site and maximum 2-year duration.
Maine: Categorizes feedstocks and establishes permitting categories based on feedstock C:N ratio and potential for human pathogens. Facilities composting less than 400 cy/month of feedstock with C:N ratio between 15:1 and 25:1 (such as produce and vegetable waste) have reduced procedures for obtaining a permit.
Massachusetts: Composting facilities handling less than 40 cy/day of vegetative food waste (or 20 cy/day of any food waste) are eligible for reduced permitting procedures.
New Jersey: Yard trimmings composting facilities with less than 10,000 cy/year are exempt from regulations provided they meet basic site requirements.
New York: Facilities handling less than 1,000 cy/year of source separated organic waste have simplified procedures for obtaining a permit (fewer requirements for submittal, design, engineering and reporting).
North Carolina: Classifies composting facilities based on the type of feedstock and the size of operation. Facilities handling less than 1,000 cy/quarter of source separated organics (e.g. food waste or paper) or less than 6,000 cy/quarter of yard trimmings have simplified procedures for obtaining a permit (fewer requirements for submittal, design, engineering and reporting).
Virginia: Chipping and grinding facilities of any size are exempt from regulations provided they meet basic environmental control and site requirements.
FORCE invited comments on the report from the organics recycling community. Operators cited two aspects of enforcement that cause problems in Florida. Some facilities do not comply with regulatory standards and charge lower fees, creating an unfair competitive advantage over those facilities that follow the guidelines. Also more consistent enforcement of the rules across FDEP districts is needed to level the playing field.
Low disposal costs pose a challenge as well. In order to attract source-separated organics, facilities typically need to charge tip fees below prevailing fees at disposal facilities. In recent years, disposal tip fees have been declining in Florida due to competition and greater disposal capacity. In order to handle source-separated organics other than yard waste, Florida facilities must carry the burden of capital and operating costs associated with regulatory compliance (e.g. enclosed operations, leachate treatment, etc.). Yet they are constrained by how much they can charge for tip fees, which are an essential revenue stream to achieve financial viability.
FDEP and Florida’s organics recycling community agree that updated regulations are needed. The Florida Composting Regulatory Report offers a series of recommendations which are summarized as follows: Establish a more complete system of tiered facility classifications that reduces the regulatory burden for a much wider array of facilities; Modify regulatory definitions for feedstocks and procedures in support of the tiered facility classification; Simplify the types of compost defined by regulation and update the pollutant standards; Establish a multi-stakeholder process for draft rule making and public comment; and Implement an outreach and development program targeted at increasing recovery and beneficial use of organic materials.
Three of the more notable recommendations are: 1) Make yard trimmings facilities with less than 50,000 cy/year exempt from regulations, provided that they conform to general environmental protection requirements; 2) Enable registered yard trimmings facilities to accept vegetative food residuals provided that they handle less than 5,000 cy/acre; keep C:N ratio greater than or equal to 35:1; and materials do not remain on site for more than 18 months; and 3) With regard to compost classification and use, establish fewer types of compost than the current regulations and create consistent heavy metals standards for all types of compost.
FORCE continues to work with FDEP and Florida’s organics recycling community to promote greater diversion and opportunity while protecting human health and the environment. The Florida Composting Regulatory Report is part of an ongoing strategy. Next steps are to: Establish multi-stakeholder process for revising the compost rule; Conduct additional research including composting trials that inform the regulatory revision process; Implement outreach program to increase beneficial use of organic materials; Establish a long-term state/industry partnership with the FORCE project; and Work for rule changes and economic incentives to foster organics recovery.
At the May 2007 meeting attended by over 60 people from the organics recycling community, FDEP committed to forming the TAG and working to revise the composting regulations (Chapter 62-709 FAC) in the coming year to allow facilities to more easily handle source separated organics. The Florida organics recycling industry will work closely with FDEP to update Chapter 62-709 to maintain provisions that help the industry, and create provisions that enable greater recovery and increase compost production and utilization.
Miriam Zimms is the FORCE Contract Administrator and a Project Manager at Kessler Consulting, Inc in Tampa, Florida. (www.kesconsult.com). Peter Engel is an Associate with Kessler Consulting. View the complete Florida Composting Regulatory Report at: http//www. floridaforce.org/flregulations.cfm.

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