Minnesota may loosen regulations to spur composting

Minnesota may loosen regulations to spur composting

By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling

Dec. 12, 2013

State regulators in Minnesota are preparing to "modernize" composting rules by easing them, in a move aimed at expediting the composting process, lowering costs and igniting growth in the industry.

"With composting, the critical question for a regulatory agency is: How long is it considered a waste and at what point does it become that valuable soil amendment product?" Tim Farnan of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) explained in an interview with Resource Recycling. MPCA officials say current regulations require a wait time for compost conversion that is unnecessarily long. MPCA would like to change that framework.

Under a new proposal set to enter a public-notice period in January by Farnan and the MPCA, a Minnesota composting operation would be permitted to register as a source-separated organics processing facility, or SOPF. The new designation would shorten the time period that composters must wait before the product is considered safely converted.

"We have two hopes attached to this revision," Farnan said. "We will make it easier for more facilities to come on-line … and make it easier for existing facilities to operate at a lower cost."

According to Farnan, the state's MSW composting regulations have been in place "since the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the strategy to get at organics was to pull them out of the trash." That strategy led to fears that commingling would contaminate the organics and prompted the state to issue stringent MSW composting rules. Over the years, however, source-separated organics have become much more common, and composting research has shown that "the material is safe at an earlier point in the process than was believed," Farnan said.

Under the new rules, Minnesota SOPFs would not be permitted to accept some materials, including manure, diapers and sanitary napkins. Those materials would only be accepted for composting at MSW composting facilities.

Thus far, stakeholders are "definitely excited" and support the "modernization of regulations," Farnan said. A recent waste characterization study carried out by MPCA indicated that in 2013, 31 percent of Minnesota's waste was compostable.

Farnan estimates that If the public-notice period in January goes smoothly, businesses could start registering as SOPFs by mid-2014.

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