There oughta be a law

California has wrapped up a parcel of bills that will, among other things, stop manufacturers from placing recycling/compostable symbols on products that are not recyclable/compostable in that state.

They will also stop folks from claiming recycling for plastics shipped offshore where they end up in incinerators and landfills.

Tricksy labeling, sleight of hand “recycling” – the sad fact is that these practices were/are so pervasive that legislators had to craft new laws to stop them.

Unfortunately, not all composting-related bills are meeting with the same good fortune.

Most in the composting community viewed the Compost Act as a step in the right direction.  But recent reports indicate no one will be popping corks on the bubbly in celebration of this composting law this year.

Composting law highlights

If you haven’t read either the House (HB4443) or Senate (S2388) versions, here are some of the key points:

  • $200 million is designated for each year through 2032 for composting grants and loan guarantees with a per project max of $5 million.
  • Almost any type of government, institutional, or non-profit entity may apply, plus farmers and ranchers.  However, unlike that particular category of business owners, all other for-profits are excluded.  Fortunately, those folks can participate as part of a collaboration with approved applicant types.
  • A specific target is food waste, especially where it is being generated in significant amounts in an area with low composting capacity.
  • All sorts of composting-related projects will be considered, including collection and marketing.
  • Organics must be source separated; no mixed MSW.  
  • Only proven designs and technologies will be considered.

The percentage of bills passed compared to the total number of bills introduced in each legislative session is in the single digits.  So, the current bill’s status might be considered typical. 

But at least this year’s activity has presented more opportunities for dialogue about compost and composting in high places.  And it appears this type of communication is very much needed.

Right hand, meet left hand

As pointed out in this BioCycle article by Dr. Sally Brown, lack of awareness can get in the way of compost use by government agencies.

For example, compost has been found to be beneficial in the stabilization and restoration of soils damaged by wildfires.  However, while the composting industry is well aware of compost’s magical soil-healing powers, it seems to be news to the US Forest Service.

Little research has been done in this area, so the department might have an excuse for their lack of awareness.

But, come on, folks.  The Forest Service is part of the US Department of Agriculture.  Surely someone in the USDA could have put two and two together by now and sent the Forest Service a memo about compost?

Must it take a literal act of Congress and a $2 billion carrot to get more people to wake up to the amazing benefits of compost use?

Apparently so.

The disappointing number of Compost Clueless in high places also serves as a reminder to the industry.  There’s still much work to be done.  And the current stack of circular economy bills are just early mile markers on the road to true sustainability for organics.