COMPOSTING: California Tiered Regs Streamline Permit Process

Before California implemented its new permitting regulations for solid waste management facilities, all composting operations - big or small - were considered equal. When it came time to obtain a composting permit, the state's largest commercial composter, which supplies tons of organic soil amendment to farms in the Central Valley, stood in line with the smallest compost operators.

Those times have changed. Last July, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIW-MB) streamlined its permitting process for composting operations and facilities by establishing five different regulatory levels, or tiers. Now, obtaining a composting permit is contingent upon the materials composted, the degree of on-site processing, the quantity sold or given away and the degree of public health or environmental safety risks posed.

Renowned for its fresh produce and fertile growing fields, California is cultivating a budding interest in composting among members of its agriculture industry. Currently, the CIWMB partially funds pilot projects around the state to enhance compost's marketability by demonstrating its soil-enriching qualities and economic potential.

Under the new composting tiers (see chart), facilities fall into several categories including exclusion and notification (which do not require solid waste permits), registration, standardized and full permit (which require solid waste permits). Composting operations and facilities governed by the board include those using agricultural, green, animal, sewage sludge and mixed solid waste materials.

Exclusion, the lowest tier, includes agricultural operations selling no more than 2,500 cubic yards of compost annually, homeowners, parks, and similar operations. Also covered under this tier are research operations. The full permit requirement applies to mixed solid waste sites that sell or give away any amount of compost.

The CIWMB's impetus for implementing the streamlined system lies in the State's mandated waste diversion goals. The Solid Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939) requires a 25 percent diversion of all solid wastes from landfills by the year 1995 and double that goal for the year 2000.

Currently, California reportedly has reached a 25.14 percent diversion rate. Organics and urban yard trimmings, or green wastes, account for nearly 30 percent of California's waste stream. The CIWMB believes that diverting these materials by creating and supporting markets represents a significant stride toward meeting future mandated diversion levels.

By abandoning a one-size-fits-all approach to permitting composting facilities, the CIWMB aims to eliminate regulatory overlap without increasing the financial burden on composters or compromising public and environmental safety. With the new system, the board also can continue to encourage solid waste diversion. For compost operators, the tiered approach offers a new- found flexibility to employ innovative approaches to meet state requirements.

The tiered composting regulations are the fruit of the combined efforts of the board, local governments, universities, industry, the public and local enforcement agencies. These groups have formed a Composting Advisory Panel to address the technical aspects of the regulatory composting tiers.

For more information on the CIWMB 's tiered composting permit regulations, contact the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Public Affairs Office, 8800 Cal Center Dr., Sacramento, Calif. 95826. (916) 255-2296.