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Understanding Regulatory and Legal Aspects of Composting

Looking to compost or collect food waste at your business or community garden? Understanding the regulatory and legal aspects of composting is crucial! Regulations can vary significantly depending on the location, scale of operations, and the materials being composted. Here are a few pieces of information to guide you through some of these complexities.

Person putting food scraps in compost pile

Large-Scale Compost Operations

For large-scale composting operations, regulatory compliance is key. In Missouri, for example, composting facilities might be exempt from some legal requirements once initial conditions are met and an approval of operations has been granted. However, these facilities must still adhere to regulations under the Clean Water Law, particularly concerning stormwater and wastewater management. The state's Department of Natural Resources provides guidance for establishing and operating a composting or co-composting facility to ensure compliance with the Missouri Solid Waste Management Law and regulations​​.

On-Farm Composting in California

In California, composting activities are primarily regulated by Cal Recycle, the State Water Resources Control Board, and local Air Districts. On-farm composting operations have to navigate through a series of regulatory requirements to maintain compliance. This includes understanding the specific permits and air quality management practices required by their local jurisdiction. The California Department of Food and Agriculture offers resources to help farmers start composting on-farm, emphasizing benefits such as improved soil moisture, water retention, carbon sequestration, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions​​.

Close up photo of compost

Quality Assurance and Sampling

Ensuring the quality of compost is another critical aspect, especially for facilities processing municipal solid waste (MSW). Quality assurance involves collecting multiple samples from randomly selected locations within a batch to accurately assess the concentration of contaminants. This process is vital since the heterogeneous nature of MSW compost can lead to considerable variation among samples from a single windrow. Facilities need to design a program specific to their operation, taking into account the number of samples required to ensure an accurate assessment​​.

Person moving compost into a pile using a tractor

General Regulatory and Legal Considerations

While the examples above focus on specific examples from Missouri and California, it's important to note that regulatory and legal requirements for composting can vary widely in your own jurisdiction. Generally, composting operations must navigate through certification or authorization processes, which can include European CE-marking or clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for devices used in the process. Beyond authorization, questions regarding reimbursement, data protection, and security of processed data also arise, especially for manufacturers marketing smart wearables or other technologies in the composting process​​.

Navigating the regulatory landscape of composting requires a thorough understanding of both local and federal regulations. Whether you're operating a large-scale facility or a small farm-based compost, staying informed about the legal requirements and best practices is essential for compliance and sustainability. Always consult with local regulatory bodies and utilize resources provided by state departments and agricultural initiatives to ensure your composting operation is both effective and compliant.


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