Snapshot Survey to Provide New State and National Data

 BioCycle Editor and Collaborative Founding Partner Nora Goldstein

BioCycle Editor and Collaborative Founding Partner Nora Goldstein

Composting is a notoriously diverse enterprise. The variety of processing techniques is compounded by both geographic diversity and the multiplicity of feedstocks that composters accept. However, the complexity of collecting composting data might even rival the immense heterogeneity of composting itself. This reality is exactly what BioCycle editor Nora Goldstein confronts in this year’s “Snapshot Survey” that attempts to paint as accurate of a picture as possible of who’s composting and where.

Goldstein’s most recent effort to catalogue the compost manufacturing landscape was in 2013. The results comprise the meaty third chapter of the monolithic 2014 State of Composting Report produced jointly by BioCycle, the Institute of Local Self Reliance, and Coker Composting & Consulting. Data from the report is routinely used as the most recent baseline for state composting rates. However, BioCycle has reported on composting, recycling, combustion, and landfill rates in their State of Garbage in America Report since 1988.

The Snapshot Survey, which is typically completed by state Department of Environmental Quality employees, inquires about facility size, feedstock acceptance, and processing method for all fully permitted composting facilities. Unlike the 2013 version, however, the 2017 survey also requests similar information on anaerobic digestion activity to depict a more broad outlook of organics recycling.

This strategy illuminates one of the challenges to collecting accurate composting data countrywide — You can only count what you collect. Goldstein explains that facilities operating under permit-by-rule or those that are exempt from permitting due to small processing capacities are frequently not reflected in a given state’s data. Similarly, states often require facility registration, but not data reporting, contributing to “low ball” numbers of statewide composting and organics diversion.

Nebraska, for example, exempts composting facilities that process under 100,000 cubic yards per year of yard waste from permitting requirements. Between the two yard waste facilities that are permitted in Nebraska, 300,000 cubic yards of yard waste was processed last year. Because Nebraska also bans yard waste from landfills that don’t have approved gas recovery systems, it’s a reasonable expectation that many small facilities under the 100,000 cubic yard cut-off do exist, but whose waste diversion contributions remain uncaptured.

Goldstein points out that while many states deliver robust information, it’s understandable that some states report limited data.  Joseph Shaw with Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality divulged that he, “would love to be able to capture this data and have an idea of how organics recycling is going state-wide,” but that, “Without any regulations in our state mandating reporting, it’s very hard for us to gather that data.”  In these instances, the Snapshot Survey usually bolsters what state data exists with information that a given state’s EPA region can supply.

Irrespective of the hiccups in composting data collection, BioCycle’s Snapshot Survey provides more granularity than most macro-level assessments of the composting space in an industry where nuance is incredibly important to understanding the playing field. The 2013 Snapshot Survey, for instance, elucidated that out of the 3,285 facilities profiled, only 218 processed more than 20,000 tons of feedstock per year. Conversely, the vast majority of processors composted 5,000 tons per year or less. Zooming in on California, the 2013 Snapshot Survey highlights the fact that out of the 360 composting facilities (197 of which are institutional), 68 facilities alone composted 90% of the state’s organics.

With more than half of states’ data already in, readers can anticipate full results from the Snapshot Survey in the June  issue of BioCycle and a flash-talk on preliminary findings from Nora Goldstein during the Composting Collaborative’s next dialogue on April 3rd.

Charlotte Dreizen