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Composting Facility

What regulations exist for organic materials and compost facilities?

Organic material management is regulated (i.e., siting, permitting, and management) at the state level, except for biosolids and animal manures.

States have assumed the lead role in regulating composting facilities. Composting facilities may need approval from the state before operating. The permit requirements for composting facilities vary among states. Examples of topics covered in the permitting process include: a detailed facility design, operating plans, a description of incoming materials, the amount and types of residue to be generated in the plant, monitoring plans, potential environmental releases, landfills to be used, and potential markets for the compost.

On the federal level, the Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge (40 CFR Part 503 under the Clean Water Act ) was published in the Federal Register (58 FR 9248 to 9404) on February 19, 1993. This act pertains to land application (and biosolids composting), surface disposal, and combustion of biosolids sewage sludge. Many of the standards promulgated in this rule can be applicable to municipal solid waste compost. For more information about this regulation, please go to EPA’s Biosolids Page.

photo: compost pile with backhoe

Compost Pile with Backhoe

Regulations for Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs)

Under Section 301 of the Clean Water Act (Title 33, Chapter 26, 1311, USC), EPA has the authority to regulate point source discharges (including CAFOs) into US waters through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program.

Manure and wastewater from CAFOs have the potential to release pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, sediments, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, and ammonia to the environment. Excess nutrients in water (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus) can result in or contribute to low levels of dissolved oxygen (anoxia), eutrophication, and toxic algal blooms. These conditions may be harmful to human health and, in combination with other circumstances, have been associated with outbreaks of microbes such as Pfiesteria piscicida. Decomposing organic matter can reduce oxygen levels and cause fish kills.

Pathogens, such as cryptosporidium, have been linked to impairments in drinking water supplies and threats to human health. Pathogens in manure can also create a food safety concern if manure is applied directly to crops at inappropriate times. In addition, pathogens are responsible for some shellfish bed closures. Nitrogen in the form of nitrate can contaminate drinking water supplies drawn from ground water.

For more information about CAFOs, see the National Agricultural Compliance Assistance Center’s Animal Feeding Operations.

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