Thinking of Starting a Larger Composting Project?

— Written By Rhonda Sherman and last updated by
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Throughout North Carolina, there is increasing interest in composting organic waste generated at farms, businesses, institutions, and residences. Food scrap composting is particularly rising in importance.

Did you know that you will likely need a permit to produce and sell compost?

Composting is regulated by the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section. Their website has links to the NC composting rules (NCGS .1401—called the 1400 Rules), how to apply for a permit, guidance for compost demonstration projects, testing facilities for analysis, and information for special cases (e.g.,  composting at residential and summer camps, and composting for urban farms and community gardens).

In 2015-16, there were 52 composting operations that were permitted by the North Carolina Division of Waste Management. These facilities received more than 600,000 tons of organic material and created 219,000 tons of Grade A compost and 194,000 tons of mulch.

Not all composting activities are regulated in North Carolina. No permit is required for:

1) Backyard composting of yard waste and organic materials from the residential property by the owner or tenant for non-commercial use.

2) Farming and land clearing (silvicultural) operations where the compost is produced from materials generated on the site and the compost is reused on that property. If compost is to be sold, or if compost ingredients are imported to the farm, then a composting permit must be obtained.

3) Primary and secondary school educational projects that take place on the school grounds and that receive less than one cubic yard of material per week. Compost or vermicompost that is produced cannot be sold, taken home, or given away.

4) Small Type 1 Facilities that use a Notification Form.

Composting facilities are classified based on the types and amounts of materials to be composted. There are four types of operations:

1) Type 1 facilities may receive yard and garden waste, silvicultural waste, untreated and unpainted wood waste or any combination of those materials.

2) Type 2 facilities may receive pre-consumer meat-free food processing waste, vegetative agricultural waste, source-separated paper or other source separated specialty wastes, which are low in pathogens and physical contaminants. Waste acceptable for a Type 1 facility may be composted at a Type 2 facility.

3) Type 3 facilities may receive manures and other agricultural waste, meat, post-consumer source-separated food wastes, and other source-separated specialty wastes or any combination thereof that are relatively low in physical contaminants, but may have high levels of pathogens. Waste acceptable for a Type 1 or 2 facility may be composted at a Type 3 facility.

4) Type 4 facilities may receive mixed municipal solid waste, post-collection separated or processed waste, industrial solid waste, non-solid waste sludge functioning as a nutrient source or other similar compostable organic wastes or any combination thereof. Waste acceptable for a Type 1, 2 or 3 facility may be composted at a Type 4 facility.

Small facilities are those that receive less than 1000 cubic yards of material for composting per quarter, and occupy less than two acres of land (except that a Small Type 1 facility shall process or store less than 6,000 cubic yards of material per quarter). Large facilities are those that receive 1000 cubic yards or more of material for composting per quarter or occupy two acres or more of land (except that a Large Type 1 facility shall process or store more than 6,000 cubic yards of material per quarter).

Setbacks are required for permitted composting facilities to protect public welfare and the environment, including groundwater and surface water. Setback distances differ depending on the type of composting facility that is permitted. Distances are minimums from compost areas, such as:

1) Not within a 100-year floodplain

2) 50 feet to property line for Type 1 and 2, and 100 feet to property line for Type 3 and 4 facilities

3) 200 feet to residences (Type 1 and 2); 500 feet for Type 3 and 4

4) 100 feet to wells

5) 50 feet to perennial streams and rivers

6) 25 feet to berms or ditches

7) 12 inches above seasonal high groundwater table (Type 1 and 2); 24 inches for Type 3; concrete or asphalt pad for Type 4.

For first-time compost operators, the Compost Rules (see 15A NCAC 13B .1409(b)) allow them to apply for a Compost Pilot and Demonstration Permit. The application process is easier because a full permit is not required. These projects must be less than two acres, and approvals are usually for one year.

If you want to produce compost or vermicompost for sale, contact the State to determine if you need a permit. Call 919-707-8200.

Written By

Rhonda Sherman, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionRhonda ShermanExtension Solid Waste Specialist (vermicomposting, composting, recycling) Call Rhonda Email Rhonda Horticultural Science
NC State Extension, NC State University
Updated on Nov 16, 2020
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