December 22, 2010 | General

U.S. Composting Industry Outlook

BioCycle December 2010, Vol. 51, No. 12, p. 57
Stuart Buckner

WITH the New Year around the corner, it is timely to take a look back at accomplishments of the past 12 to 16 months, as well as forward to what the composting industry in the United States can anticipate in 2011. The U.S. Composting Council (USCC) has about 650 members from just about every state in the country. Roughly half of our membership operates or works at a composting facility, 20 percent are equipment manufacturers or dealers, and the remaining members are regulators, university faculty, consultants, waste haulers and related professionals.
Many of the USCC Committees have been very active over the past year, achieving a number of their goals, while making significant progress on others. The Legislative and Environmental Affairs Committee (LEAC) has led the way, working at both the national and state levels. In the fall of 2009, funds were raised to hire a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. to represent the composting industry’s interests with regard to the climate change and energy legislation, especially in the proposed federal carbon “cap and trade” programs. While the House of Representatives passed HR 2454, the Senate version ultimately stalled and died. On the positive side, in the lobbying process, many members of Congress and their staff were educated about the role that composting and compost utilization play in landfill methane avoidance, carbon sequestration, and the importance of composting in fully utilizing the country’s natural resources.
A significant victory was achieved in October 2010 when the USCC, working with associations in related industries such as the Mulch and Soil Council, helped steer the direction of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program’s (BCAP) final rule revisions. The intent of BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to provide incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest land owners to cultivate biomass crops for heat, power, biobased products and biofuels. At issue was that federal matching payments might be made for biomass materials like wood chips and bark that already have established uses and markets, including feedstocks for compost production. Federal matching funds could tip the economic balance, thereby depriving composting, horticultural and other markets from access to materials for which there are not adequate substitutes. The final rule explains that while materials such as bark and wood chips are generally defined as “eligible materials,” they will not be eligible for federal matching payments if USDA determines that, within distinct local markets, the product is being diverted from higher-value (existing) markets.
The LEAC has set a long-term goal of establishing a distinct NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code for the composting industry. Acquiring such a code creates the ability to gather and track vital composting industry data such as sales volumes, tax contributions and size of the labor force – data that are virtually impossible to determine now. An article series in BioCycle, beginning in this issue (see page 25), will explain the benefits to the industry of having an NAICS code, what the process is to create one, and what USCC members can do to participate.
As active as the LEAC has been on federal issues, the real action has been at the state level. In recent years, there has been pressure in a number of states with long-standing bans on landfilling leaves and/or other yard debris to have those bans weakened or eliminated. Battleground states have included Michigan, Missouri, Georgia and Florida. To help fight these ban repeals, the USCC started a matching fund program where up to $15,000 is made available to a state compost group to help hire a local lobbyist. Both Georgia and Florida took advantage of this program in 2010, and in both cases were successful (although Florida’s veto of the ban repeal was recently overturned (see “Florida Trashes Yard Trimmings Ban,” on page 20). Challenges to states’ bans are anticipated to continue in 2011 and beyond, making the matching fund an important source of support.

The Market Development Committee (MDC) oversees the USCC’s Seal of Testing Assurance Program (STA), which continued to expand in 2010. There are 192 products and approximately 6.3 million cubic yards enrolled in STA. The Oregon Department of Transportation joined several other state DOTs (California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Washington) in requiring only STA compost for their landscaping projects. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection became the first regulatory agency to offer enrollment in STA as an alternative to fertilizer registration for biosolids compost producers. This option offers those producers a significant decrease in costs and paperwork requirements. Similar initiatives are underway in other parts of the United States.
One of the MDC’s primary objectives for 2011 is to create a Consumer Use Program (CUP). A science-based system using analytical data derived from STA program testing, the CUP will result in approved uses with an accompanying icon applied to compost product labels, literature and producer websites. The preliminary list of compost uses will include planting directions for lawns, flower and vegetable gardens and trees and shrubs.
The MDC continues to cooperate with the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) on the development of a model Soil Amendment bill, and other issues. The Uniform Soil Amendment has been approved for “official” status; the new language benefits the composting industry, as it starts to better define soil amendments. However, it will disallow composters from claiming that compost “supplies beneficial microbes” without guaranteeing the specific species and count. Other MDC work related to AAPFCO in 2010 includes adopting definitions of anaerobic digestate products and watery extracts of compost (aka “tea”) and development of an appropriate cautionary statement for microbially-based products.

The USCC’s compost operator training was relaunched in 2010, with the first two offerings of the 5-day course in Davis, California and Cobleskill, New York. Dormant for over a decade, the training includes lectures, hands-on activities and field trips all organized around running a successful composting facility. Courses are already lined up for March 7-11, 2011 in Riverside, California and September in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The other side of the professional development coin is certification. The USCC offers a joint certification with the Solid Waste Association of North America. A new Professional Composter Certification focusing initially on site operations is under development. The goal is to launch this early in 2012.

In addition to discussions on the developments described above, the USCC’s 19th Annual Conference – January 24-27, 2011 in Santa Clara and San Jose, California -will delve into a number of others. Returning to California after three years brings us back to the state with the most developed composting infrastructure in the country. Yet increased regulation threatens to limit that growth. What will the organics recycling facilities of the future look like? Four industry leaders, public and private, East Coast and West, will look into their crystal balls and prognosticate the future of organics management at the plenary session.
The conference opens with a day of training workshops and an annual membership meeting, followed by two days of speaker sessions. The fourth day features equipment demonstrations, hosted this year by Newby Island Compost Facility. Some of the topics to be covered in sessions include: Increasing the quantity and quality of collected organics, especially food residuals; Obtaining maximum value out of the collected organics, including energy extraction before composting; Optimizing and streamlining operations at composting facilities; Markets and compost marketing, including new rules in California on selling compost to certified organic farms; and Keynote by Eugene Rosow, producer of Dirt-The Movie, which will be shown at the conference.
A collaboration between the California Organics Recycling Council (CORC), SPI’s Bioplastics Council and the USCC has led to a Compostable Plastics Symposium on Jan 26th. The symposium starts with an overview of the issues, including findings of a white paper commissioned by CORC on the various compostable resins, classes of products, and relevant standards and regulations. The apparent inability of some of these materials to break down during the composting process will be addressed, as will questions surrounding compostable claims, and whether standards allowing companies to make these claims should be modified. A facilitated planning session will explore how resin formulators, product manufacturers, collectors, composters and certifiers can work together to address the issues. More details on the conference are available at

Stuart Buckner is Executive Director of the US Composting Council.

Sign up