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Food Waste Composting Regulations White Paper
California Integrated Waste Management Board
California Integrated Waste Management Board staff was directed by Board Members to review Board
regulations to ensure they are grounded in the best available science, address changing market conditions, and
take advantage of developing technologies. Board staff developed priority regulatory areas for review as part of
the Strategic Directives adopted in February 2007 and to support the Organics Roadmap. One of the priority
regulation areas Board staff selected to review is food waste composting regulations.
Compostable organic materials comprise approximately 25 percent, or about 10 million tons, of what is
disposed in landfills annually.1 According to the 2008 Waste Characterization Study, food waste represents 15.5
percent (approximately 6.1 million tons) of the material landfilled in California. Strategic Directive 6.1 calls for
a 50 percent reduction in the amount of organics in the waste stream by 2020. An additional 15 million tons of
organic material will need to be recycled annually to achieve this goal, requiring the siting of new and
expansion of existing organic diversion facilities.
Many jurisdictions are interested in diverting food waste to comply with the 50 percent waste reduction
mandate in the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, but are having difficulty finding local
facilities that are permitted to compost food waste. Currently, food waste composting requires a full
Compostable Materials Handling Facility Permit (unless excluded under Section 17855 of the regulations), and
many stakeholders indicate this requirement discourages food waste composting. Other stakeholders indicate
food waste is a highly putrescible and odorous, attracts vectors, generates volatile organic compounds (VOCs),
and should require a full Compostable Materials Handling Facility Permit. Below are several issues identified
by stakeholders during recent informal interviews:
Requiring a full Compostable Materials Handling Facility Permit to compost food material may be too
The current definition of food material is very general.
Food material contains a large amount of contaminants that are not found in green material which
impacts facility operations and product quality.
The potential negative environmental impacts of composting food material have not been fully
Current regulations may not comprehensively address compost safety issues.
This paper will examine the regulatory history of composting in California, compost/mulch infrastructure,
compost product safety, compost quality, food waste composting in California, air and water quality impacts of
composting, and food waste composting regulatory issues identified by stakeholders.
Regulatory History of Composting in California
Composting facilities did not require permits from the Board until the passage of Assembly Bill 3992 (Sher,
Chapter 1355, Statutes of 1990). Board Members adopted Green Waste Compost Regulations on July 15, 1993,
but the new regulations did not address other material types, such as animal waste, sewage sludge, and mixed
solid waste. Each of these material types posed varying degrees of public health and safety and environmental
concerns and different operational aspects which required some variation in regulations. During the process of
developing minimum standards for composting facilities and examining the need to regulate new solid waste
1 Dec. 11, 2007 Board Meeting, Agenda Item 15
http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/BoardInfo/StrategicPlan/2007/SD08.htm#8Sub4 http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/BoardInfo/StrategicPlan/2007/SD08.htm#8Sub4 http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/BoardInfo/StrategicPlan/2007/SD08.htm#8Sub4 http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Archive/IWMBMtgDocs/mtgdocs/2008/12/00024036.doc
handling activities, Board Members determined that permitting procedures should be adjusted to more
efficiently regulate these new activities.
In November 1994, Board Members adopted regulations to implement a tiered regulatory structure to provide a flexible regulatory structure for solid waste facilities and solid waste handling operations. The tiered structure was designed to provide a level of regulatory oversight commensurate with the impacts associated with a solid waste handling or disposal activity. The regulations established five tiers. Figure 1 provides basic information with respect to permitting status and operational standards associated with each tier.2
In July 1995, the second version of composting regulations placed all composting operations into the five tiers: Exclusion, Notification of Enforcement Agency, Registration Permit, Standardized Permit, and Full Solid Waste Facilities Permit. The regulatory tier structure matched the regulatory oversight of a composting facility or operation to the facility's risk or danger to public health, safety, and the environment that needed to be addressed by the Board. The 1995 composting regulations also included additional feedstocks (Green Material, Clean Green Material, Animal Material, Sewage Sludge, and Mixed Solid Waste), removal of some prescriptive requirements, and the addition of some performance-based requirements. The regulations focused on windrow composting operations.
In 1997, Board Members determined that chipping and grinding and storage resulted in threats to public health, safety, and the environment that needed to be addressed by the Board. Fires at organic materials
chipping and grinding and storage activities were documented throughout the state. Board Members
adopted emergency regulations for chipping and grinding, and storage of organic materials at their Feb.
26, 1997, meeting, and the emergency regulations were approved by the Office of Administrative Law
and became effective on April 7, 1997. The regulations required owners or operators of chipping and
grinding or storage activities with 1,000 cubic yards of organic material on site at any one time to meet
minimum fire safety, nuisance control, and record-keeping requirements. In addition, clarification was
given on which activities associated with vermicomposting were subject to Board regulations.
In 1998, chipping, grinding, and additional requirements for vermicomposting regulations took effect.
The regulations clarified the vermicomposting exclusion, established minimum standards for storage and
chipping and grinding activities, and regulated stabilized compost which had not been sold, bagged for
sale, or beneficially used. These regulations did not place storage and chipping and grinding activities
into permitting tiers. However, staff was directed by Board Members to accomplish this at a later date.
In January 2001, Board staff drafted compost regulations based on several “guiding principles,” such as protecting public health, safety, and the environment while increasing opportunities for the diversion
and beneficial use of compostable organic materials. In April 2001, Board Members directed staff to
2 A matrix summary of tier elements includes process timeframes, inspection frequency, enforcement tools, and more. The complete regulatory language is contained in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, sections 18100 through 18105.11.
http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Laws/Rulemaking/Archive/1995/Tiers/ http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/LEA/Regs/Tiered/default.htm http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Laws/Rulemaking/Archive/1995/Compost/ http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Laws/Rulemaking/Archive/1995/Compost/ http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/LEA/Regs/Tiered/tierhigh.pdf https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Browse/Home/California/CaliforniaCodeofRegulations?guid=IF53A911E15FD47B1A2548D48E9AFBBA2
solicit further stakeholder input, and Board staff initiated one 45-day public comment period and two
15-day public comment periods in 2002.3 Board Members adopted the Compostable Materials Handling
Operations regulations at their Nov. 19-20, 2002, meeting. The Office of Administrative Law approved
the regulations on April 4, 2003, and they became effective immediately. Some of the major regulatory
o Simplifying the tiers to include only Enforcement Agency (EA) Notification and Compostable Materials Handling Facility Permit for composting activities;
o Allowing volume increases for agricultural, green, and research composting operations within the EA Notification tier;
o Allowing 500 cubic yards of material on-site at any one time for an excluded green material activity, with up to 10 percent food material;
o Placing all facilities handling non-green feedstocks such as animal material, biosolids, food material, and municipal solid waste in the Compostable Materials Handling Facility permit tier;
o Excluding within-vessel composting process activities with less than 50 cubic yard capacities and on-site noncommercial composting of up to one cubic yard of food material.
In 2008, composting regulations were amended to allow onsite composting of mammalian tissue when associated with research to obtain data on pathogen reduction. Existing emergency waiver standards
were also amended to a