COMPOST: Compost's Next Wave

Although compost once was the Rodney Dangerfield of disposal options, today it is a serious business with a growing potential for use in erosion control.

Compost has become almost commonplace in the mature market sectors of landscaping, topsoil blenders, nurseries, and even home lawn and garden projects. And as the environmental market for compost expands, the next wave of application opportunities appears to be erosion control.

The results of several studies and projects are helping to spur this momentum.

For example, the Washington, D.C.- based Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 1997 report, "Innovative Uses of Compost: Bioremediation and Pollution Prevention," examines how compost can be used to restore contaminated soils, manage stormwater, control odors and degrade volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To meet EPA stormwater regulations, the study says municipalities can use compost stormwater filters (CSFs), which help to degrade chemical contaminants, floating debris, surface scum and sediment.

A CSF is made from a cement box with baffles, which allows water to flow in and out. Inside the box is a "specially tailored compost" that filters the water as it passes through its layers, the report states.

In the near future, environmental pressures driving local water quality decisions also will increase compost's acceptance in the erosion control market. This is because the Phase II National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) regulations will go into effect in March 2003, requiring more stringent stormwater management controls and dictating tighter restraints on contractors who may now be discharging sediment into local waterways.

Already, many contractors have noticed better performance from products such as compost filter berms and compost blankets. Additional new products may further increase compost's application.

For example, filter socks, a mesh tubular material that can be filled with compost, can be used for pond or stream bank renovation and are replacing ditch checks around storm drain inlets, as well as replacing silt fences and filter berms. Because filter socks can be filled with locally produced compost, this provides communities with a potentially less expensive option than other rolled products, such as straw or coconut fiber that cannot be obtained locally.

Blower trucks, which primarily have been used to pneumatically blow compost into place for decorative bark installation on landscapes, also can be used to fill mesh filter socks once onsite, further enhancing compost's applicability.

Today's reality is that a low percentage of the waste stream in composted. However, because more than 60 percent of the waste stream is compostable, the future for compost production and selling into environmental markets looks promising.

And as more products are introduced, compost may become the best performing product at a competitive price -- while being locally produced.

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