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Composting of Organic Waste

The process occurs naturally and is a critical component to soil health. After plants and animals die, bacteria go to work decomposing the remains. Once the decay process is complete, the original matter is no longer recognizable and a rich, dark, soil-like substance remains. The living organisms involved in the decay process thrive in an environment of the right combination of air, water, nitrogen, and carbon. The better the conditions, the faster the compost process. Composting of organic materials from the solid waste stream not only provides a valuable benefit to nutrient deficient soils, but also reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators. Other benefits of composting organic matter include the increase in beneficial soil organisms such as worms and centipedes, suppression of certain plant diseases, the reduced need for fertilizers and pesticides, prevention of soil erosion and nutrient run-off, and assistance in land reclamation projects.

photo of a compost pileIn New York State, thousands of tons of organic waste materials are composted each year. These include treated sewage sludge, otherwise known as biosolids (see the series of NYSDEC Biosolids Fact Sheets (PDF, 330 Kb) from waste water treatment plants (WWTPs); food waste residuals from industrial food processing facilities; food waste from recovery programs at hospitals, colleges, office buildings, and prisons; paper sludge; yard waste and other organic waste materials.

Facilities involved in the composting of sewage sludge, manure, food, yard, and other solid wastes may be subject to regulation under 6 NYCRR Subpart 360-5 Compost Facilities. The regulations are designed to ensure proper management of facilities that compost organic material in a safe, nuisance-free manner, and to protect against potential environmental and human health risks associated with metals and disease bearing micro-organisms known as pathogens. Because of the pathogen, metal and other concerns, permitting of these facilities requires establishment of sound permit conditions to prevent impacts to human health and the environment. Permit conditions are developed in regard to site location, quantity and quality of the materials to be processed, facility design, pathogen reduction, odor and vector control, run-on and run-off potential, ultimate use of the finished product, etc.

Currently, there are sixty-four (64) facilities permitted for composting in New York State (see the List of Compost Facilities in New York State (PDF, 16 Kb). Of these, twenty-six (26) compost biosolids, thirty-four (34) compost yard wastes, and four (4) compost food and other mixed wastes.

Material resulting from the composting of biosolids and yard waste is used primarily as an organic soil conditioner and partial fertilizer. It is applied to agricultural lands, recreational areas such as parks and golf courses, mined lands, highway medians, cemeteries, home lawns and gardens, just to name a few. Requests for distribution and marketing compost products generated outside New York State can be directed to the Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling (BWR&R) at the Division of Materials Management, New York State DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-7253. The request must contain the information found in 6 NYCRR Section 360-5.8 Products Generated Outside New York State for compost produced outside of New York State.

photo of a compost facilityWith the majority of facilities composting biosolids and yard waste, a couple of key guidance documents have been developed. A useful guidance document for preparing sludge for direct or indirect land application is entitled Environmental Regulations and Technology: "Control of Pathogens and Vector Attraction in Sewage Sludge."

This document, authored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provides guidance on all aspects of pathogen and vector control for biosolids. It provides information on both Class A and Class B requirements of treated sewage sludge in regards to processes to reduce pathogens and vector attraction.

In addition to State regulations, the EPA has established regulations for composting of sewage sludge under 40 CFR Part 503 Standards for Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge. These regulations are more simply described in "A Plain English Guide to the EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule." Until New York State becomes delegated to administer the federal regulations, both will apply. The federal regulations include similar information to that of the State regulations such as general requirements, pollutant limits, best management practices, operational standards, monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting.

A permitted compost facility is required to submit an annual report to the Department in accordance with the regulations. The information submitted should include facility information, type and quantities of the materials to be composted, biosolids analysis, finished product analysis, material input and finished compost sampling information, problems, and complaints. Copies of the annual report forms for solid waste composting may be obtained on the compost facility annual report forms page.

The web links on this page offer some insight into the regulations that govern the composting of organic waste. Additional information regarding the composting of organic waste may be obtained by contacting the Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling (BWR&R) at (518) 402-8706 or e-mail the BWR&R at: Organicrecycling@gw.dec.state.ny.us

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