The future of composting
As municipalities and counties
across the nation face increasing
pressure to divert material
from the solid waste stream,
the collection of compostable
materials and the infrastructure
to produce compost is expanding.
To explain the current situation
of the compost industry and
its future, American Recycler
sat down with Matt Cotton,
the president of the U.S. Composting
What should state governments
and state departments of agriculture
and natural resources be doing
in terms of legislation and
incentives to promote the production
Cotton: Perhaps the most significant
driver of the initial growth
of the compost market was the
implementation by over 20 states
of bans on some form of organics
being disposed of in landfills.
In addition, many states have
aggressive recycling goals
that provide additional incentive
to recycle. There are some
good examples out there for
states to follow if they want
to increase their level of
organics recycling and composting.
States can also participate
by helping to drive the demand
side of the equation. Some
states (like Texas, California
and a few others) have developed
specifications for state agencies
to use when buying compost.
Similarly, state Departments
of Agriculture could do a better
job about getting the word
out about the benefits of compost.
In some states agriculture
is the single largest market
for compost. Every state can
do a better job of incentivizing
generators to more responsibly
manage their organics.
What should the federal government
and department of agriculture
be doing in terms of legislation
and incentives to promote the
production of compost?
Cotton: There are several initiatives
that the Federal Government
is currently pursuing, though
most of that involves their
own offices and practices.
It would be great if the incoming
administration took a fresh
look at organics and ways to
increase production and use
of compost. Clearly there is
going to be Federal legislation
next year dealing with greenhouse
gasses. Depending on how that
shakes out, there may be indirect
benefits to the composting
industry. Most observers believe
that composting projects qualify
for carbon credits, though
there are lots of details to
If in fact composting can generate
carbon credits, this may provide
a funding mechanism for new
or expanding projects. We are
really just starting to learn
about how using compost also
helps with reducing climate
change. It is going to get
a lot more attention in the
next few years.
What is the composting industry
doing to promote the sale and
use of compost to the agricultural
industry, municipalities and
federal and state governments?
Cotton: The USCC has developed
its Seal of Testing Assurance
Program (STA), which is a compost
testing and disclosure program
to help differentiate products
which are truly composted and
to assure that compost producers
are providing the same product
data and using approved test
A number of Departments of
Transportation around the country
are now specifying “STA Compost”
because it helps them make
apples to apples comparisons
of products. The USCC is promoting
the STA program to local, state
and even the Federal government,
but also to landscape architects
and other compost-buyers.
Is the public aware of the
value of compost as a gardening
tool, and if it was explained
how recycling plays a role,
would people be more open to
purchasing compost? What would
be the effect of major consumer
demand for that material?
Cotton: There are definitely
certain parts of the public
that understand the full role
of composting as an important
recycling tool and also understand
the importance of using compost.
But there is a lot more work
to be done. In many cases,
compost is but one additive
in a topsoil blend that a homeowner
might buy, so they may not
even know they are buying compost.
If the maximum amount of compostable
material was collected, how
would that extend the lifespan
of existing landfills and reduce
the solid waste collection
budgets of cities and counties?
Do political leaders and solid
waste managers understand this
Cotton: I’m always surprised
that landfills don’t take full
advantage of diverting organics.
The savings in landfill airspace
alone (not to mention the avoided
cost of siting and developing
a new landfill) should be enough
to justify developing a composting
program. There are many excellent
examples of composting facilities
at landfills and I’d like to
see more of this. I don’t think
too many political leaders
make that connection. In the
near future we are also likely
to have greenhouse gas legislation
that may also highlight the
benefits of collecting more
organics for composting.
Where do you see the composting
industry in the next five years?
United States composting industry
is on a steady growth curve
right now. I expect that will
continue in the next five years.
The potential for composting
is really just starting to
be appreciated. The best years
of the composting industry
are definitely ahead of it.