ccess  St<
                                                            e   into  Gold
       "Composting can work in
         the marketplace and
         provide ongoing
         environmental and
         economic benefits."

         John Majercak
         Director of Waste Management Programs
         Center for Ecological Technology
Results at a Glance: 1996-2OOO
     food    wood cardboard  yard  manure/
                        waste  bedding
     food    wood cardboard  yard  manure/
                        waste bedding
                              Organic waste comprises a significant portion of the U.S. munici-
                              pal solid waste (MSW) stream. EPA estimates that the nation's
                              MSW contained 85.7  million tons of paper and paperboard in
                              1999, 25.2 million tons of food  discards, 27.7 million tons of
                              yard trimmings, and  12.3 million tons of wood—adding  up to  66
                              percent of the total waste stream. Similarly, compostable waste
                              in  Massachusetts accounts for as much as 70 percent of  the
                              state's total MSW  by  weight.

                              Composting Organic Waste in
                              The Center for Ecological Technology (GET), a nonprofit organization that pro-
                              motes sustainable technologies in New England, successfully created an innov-
                              ative market-based infrastructure for diverting commercial and agricultural
                              organic waste from disposal in landfills. CET's on-farm composting program
                              turns the waste into organic material suitable for sale as a market product or
                              for use on the farm.

                              A Market-Based Approach
                              Massachusetts has innovative state policies on composting, an active agricul-
                              tural sector, and existing composting activities. GET, aware of these advan-
                              tages, seized the opportunity to turn composting into a regular "way of doing
                              business." With funding from the U.S.  Department of Agriculture, the
                              Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and foundations, GET
                              launched an extensive outreach and technical assistance program in 1996.
                              CET's on-farm composting project targeted farmers, waste  haulers, and com-
                              mercial waste generators. Within three years, GET had enlisted 7 farmers, 6
                              commercial haulers, and  45 commercial waste generators at more than 70
                              locations such as supermarkets, restaurants, schools, and large wholesale food
                              distributors. The haulers  transport the waste to the farms  where it is compost-
                              ed, and the finished product is then marketed to customers such as landscap-
                              ers and home gardeners.  The program is continuing and expanding through
                              industry-led efforts.

                              By  reusing the organic wastes rather than disposing of them,  GET achieved
                              greenhouse gas reductions of approximately 5,700 metric tons of carbon equiv-
                              alent (MTCE) from the program's inception in 1996 to 2000—an amount com-
                              parable to the amount of carbon that would be sequestered annually by 6,333
                              acres of five-year-old trees.

In addition to reductions in green-
house gases, diverting organic waste
from landfills can help reduce
leachate production and free up limit-
ed landfill space.
The project has economic benefits as
well. Communities and commercial
waste generators benefit from the
lower tipping costs charged by the
farmers versus landfills. Farmers
receive income by accepting the com-
mercial waste and marketing the fin-
ished compost to the public. Haulers,
seeking local disposal options, and
communities, seeking to prolong  land-
fill life, benefit from the availability of
farm composting facilities.
The program also helps promote sus-
tainable agriculture, as farmers  can
better manage their own wastes and
substitute the compost for petrole-
um-based fertilizers.

GET overcame  a number of obstacles.
At the outset, farmers needed assur-
ance that enough waste would be
available to make the program cost-
effective,  and waste generators
wanted to be sure that farms would
accept the waste. GET met these
barriers through extensive outreach
and technical assistance to ensure a
critical mass of participants to
reduce the risks and achieve  needed
economies of scale.
Quality control to ensure an end prod-
uct suitable for sale presented another
obstacle.  GET employed technical
experts to train participants in tech-
niques to ensure that the waste loads
are free from contamination and are
composted correctly.
 GET recognized the need to make on-
 farm composting  cost-effective. High
 tipping fees at New England landfills
 ($65 to $85/ton) enable farmers to
 charge tipping fees for food scraps
 and other compostable materials ($25
 to $35/ton) that are sufficient to
 help make their operations profitable.
 They supplement the tipping fees
 through retail sales of $30 per yard
 of compost (wholesale is  only
 $8/yard). The  lower the tipping fee,
 the higher the price the composter
 needs  to secure for the finished
 product. When replicating the pro-
 gram in regions where tipping fees
 are lower, the  retail market is even
 more  critical.

 Replicating the
 Communities interested in  replicating
 the GET model should begin by making
 a shift from thinking of composting as
 a disposal option to viewing it as
 manufacturing a product and the com-
 poster as capturing the inherent value
 left in  a material. Line up  waste gen-
 erators, haulers, and composters so
 that everyone is ready to initiate the
 program at the same time. Ensure that
 the project has enough sites to reduce
Farmers accept organic waste such as food waste,
corrugated cardboard, paper, and yard trimmings
and turn it into a marketable finished product.

the risk that the effort would fall
apart if one site shuts down. Be ready
to provide extensive follow-up
technical assistance.

In line with CET's goal of modifying
practices that have adverse impacts
on the natural environment, the orga-
nization's On-Farm Composting project
proves that innovative waste manage-
ment practices can reduce  emissions
of destructive greenhouse gases.

"Building a Market-Based  System of
Farm Composting and Commercial
Food Waste in Western Massachusetts
— Final Report," available on the
CET Web site at

John Majercak, CET director of
waste  management programs, email:
EPA's Climate and Waste Program increases
awareness of climate change and its link to
waste management in order to (1) make
greenhouse gas emissions  a factor in waste
management decisions and (2) employ waste
management as a mitigation action for reduc-
ing greenhouse gas emissions. For additional
information on EPA's Climate and Waste
Program, see
  Solid Waste and
  Emergency Response
          *  1
EPA 530-F-02-021
July 2002
       on Recycled Paper
       (Minimum 50% Postconsumer)
       Process Chlorine Free