Compost and Fertilizer Made From Recovered Organic Materials
Mature compost is defined as a thermophilic converted product with high humus content that can be used as a soil amendment and can prevent or remediate pollutants in soil, air, and storm water run-off. Compost's various uses improve soil quality and productivity as well as prevent and control erosion. Mixed organic materials, such as animal manure, yard trimmings, food waste, and biosolids, must go through a controlled heat process before they can be used as high quality, biologically stable, and mature compost.
Fertilizer, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a single or blended substance containing one or more recognized plant nutrient(s) used primarily for its plant nutrient content claimed to have value in promoting plant growth. While compost contains many of the same characteristics as fertilizer, such as nutrients, it is not considered a complete fertilizer unless amended.
The recovered organic materials from which compost and fertilizer are made include, but are not limited to, yard waste, food waste, manure and biosolids. Additional organic materials are listed on pages 4-8 of the document below, CPG V Appendices (Biosolids, Manure, and Fertilizers) (PDF) (30 pp, 112K, About PDF). EPA recognizes that these organic materials are the most commonly used in commercially available compost but other organic materials could also be used. Yard waste utilizes organic waste from lawns and gardens, such as grass, leaves, and twigs, to create an effective soil amendment or fertilizer. Food waste is similarly comprised of items such as fruit and vegetable trimmings and kitchen preparation residuals. Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge. When treated and processed, these residuals can be recycled and applied as fertilizer or compost to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth. Manure is an agricultural waste not generally captured in collection programs, but nonetheless, is generated in high volumes and can offer multiple beneficial uses including nutrients for crop production and organic matter to improve soil properties.
- Recommended Recovered Materials Content Ranges
- Product Specifications
- Product Information
- Additional Links
EPA does not recommend any content ranges for either compost or fertilizer since both are generally made exclusively from recovered organic materials.
EPA's Recovered Materials Advisory Notice (RMAN) recommends that procuring agencies purchase or use compost made from recovered organic materials in such applications as landscaping, seeding of grasses or other plants on roadsides and embankments, nutritious mulch under trees and shrubs, and in erosion control and soil reclamation.
EPA further recommends that those procuring agencies that have an adequate volume of organic materials, as well as sufficient space for composting, should implement a composting system to produce compost from these materials to meet their landscaping and other needs.
Fertilizers made from recovered organic materials can contain up to 100 percent recovered materials and can have a mixture of various plant, animal, and mineral content depending on the desired use and the manufacturer.
EPA’s Recovered Materials Advisory Notice (RMAN) recommends that procuring agencies purchase or use fertilizers made from recovered organic materials in such applications as agriculture and crop production, landscaping, horticulture, parks and other recreational facilities, on school campuses, and for golf course and turf maintenance.
Fertilizer is often characterized by its Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium value or NPK value. The NPK value represents the percentage of fertilizer that each element composes. For example, an NPK of 3-2-1 indicates that a fertilizer is composed of 3 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorous, and 1 percent potassium. These are the elements that most plants require for growth. For more information on the NPK values for fertilizers please refer to the Technical Background Document (PDF) (30 pp, 112K, About PDF) for fertilizer.
EPA issued regulations in 1993 that limit the pollutants and pathogens in biosolids, entitled ‘‘The Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge,’’ (40 CFR part 503). If biosolids are included as part of the compost or fertilizer, part 503 land application requirements in effect ensure that any biosolids that are land applied, through compost or fertilizers, contain pathogens and metals that are below specified levels to protect the health of humans, animals, and plants.
EPA recommends procuring agencies refer to the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) which has developed guidelines and lists of materials allowed and prohibited for use in the production, processing, and handling of organically grown products. EPA also recommends procuring agencies refer to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, which prohibit the use of biosolids in organic production. Procuring agencies should also check for individual state and other applicable federal and local government regulations on the use of organic fertilizer and compost.
EPA recommends that procuring agencies ensure that there is no language in their specifications related to landscaping, soil amendments, erosion control, or soil reclamation that would preclude or discourage the use of compost. If, for instance, specifications address the use of straw or hay in roadside revegetation projects, procuring agencies should assess whether compost could substitute for straw or hay or be used in combination with them.
The US Department of Transportation's "Standard Specifications for Construction of Roads and Bridges on Federal Highway Projects 1996" specifies compost as one of the materials suitable for use in roadside revegetation projects associated with road construction. These standards do not preclude the use of compost made from yard trimmings, leaves, grass clippings, and/or food waste.
In addition, EPA recommends that procuring agencies obtain the following specification and adapt it or another suitable specification for their use in purchasing compost products:
- The state of Maine developed quality standards for compost products that are used by its agencies and/or purchased with state funds. Quality standards were set for six types of compost products ranging from topsoil (three classes) to wetland substrate to mulch (two classes). For each of these types of compost product, standards for maturity, odor, texture, nutrients, pH, salt content, organic content, pathogen reduction, heavy metals, foreign matter, moisture content, and density were established. Write: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 17 State House Station, Augusta, Maine, 04333, phone: 207 287-7688 or 800 452-1942.
The U.S. Composting Council (USCC) is helping to define and develop industry wide standards for composts made from recovered organic materials. The Composting Council publishes these standards in "Test Methods for Examination of Composting and Compost (TMECC)." TMECC is a laboratory manual that provides detailed protocols for the composting industry to sample, monitor, and analyze materials at all stages of the composting process to help maintain process control, verify process attributes, assure worker safety, and avoid degradation to the environment in and around the composting facility. The USCC also offers the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program, a compost testing and information disclosure program that uses the TMECC. Participating compost producers regularly sample and test their products using STA program approved labs. The USCC then certifies the participants’ compost as ‘‘STA certified compost’’ and allows the use of the STA logo on product packaging and literature. Procuring agencies can consider specifying STA certified compost, especially for applications that require consistent quality.
EPA recommends that procuring agencies ensure that there is no language in their specifications relating to such applications as agriculture and crop production, landscaping, horticulture, parks and other recreational facilities, on school campuses, and for golf course and turf maintenance that would preclude or discourage the use of fertilizers made from recovered organic materials.
In proposing to designate fertilizers made from recovered organic materials in the CPG, EPA is not placing any limitations on the organic materials, but rather is relying on federal, state, and local regulations and guidance, as well as existing industry standards.
of Manufacturers and Suppliers
This database identifies manufacturers and suppliers of recovered organic material compost and fertilizer.
Buy-Recycled Series: Landscaping Products (PDF) (7 pp, 404K, About PDF)
This fact sheet highlights the landscaping products designated in the CPG, including compost and fertilizer made from recovered organic material, as well as helpful references and examples of uses and sources of products.
Supporting Analysis Document (Yard Trimmings Compost)
These supporting analysis documents include EPA's product research on yard trimmings compost, as well as a more detailed overview of the history and regulatory requirements of the CPG process.
Background Document (Food Waste Compost) (PDF) (215 pp, 381K, About PDF)
This background document for CPG and RMAN III includes EPA's product research on food waste compost, as well as a more detailed overview of the history and regulatory requirements of the CPG process.
Background Document (Biosolids, Manure, and Fertilizers) (PDF) (85 pp, 2.17M, About PDF) and CPG V Appendices (Biosolids, Manure, and Fertilizers) (PDF) (30 pp, 112K, About PDF)
This background document includes EPA’s product research on manure and biosolids production and NPK values for various fertilizers as well as a more detailed overview of the history and regulatory requirements of the CPG process.
EPA Biosolids Web Page
This Web Page outlines EPA’s regulations and requirements for the production, use, and application of biosolids.
EPA Composting Web Page
This Web Page provides useful information about how to compost, how the process works, laws and statutes, environmental benefits, as well as various publications.