Friday, December 23, 2011

Ohio EPA and Community Garden Compost Bins

[Editor's Note: I have learned that the proposed rules (discussed below) were approved and were filed by the OEPA on February 17, 2012 with an effective date of April 2, 2012 -- just in time for gardening season.  You can read more about them on his blog here.]

It came to my attention this afternoon (and pleasant surprise) that the Ohio EPA has proposed to relax composting standards for community gardens and individuals. Many community gardens want to establish relationships with area restaurants, groceries, food wholesalers and individuals to turn their food waste into compost (i.e., black gold) to support the garden's soil and possibly sell as a way of financially sustaining their gardening program (without having to beg for government subsidies). Food waste is a particularly good source of nitrogen because there is generally not enough grass clippings and other "green" items to supplement "brown" fall leaves.

Composting is an EPA-regulated activity because of the potential to create a nuisance and contaminate, among other things, ground water and other waterways. Rumor has it that some private sector entities want to maintain a monopoly and high entrance costs to decrease competition. I did not write the following information, have not yet reviewed the old rule, the proposed rule or considered its impact on the SACG or other community gardens, if any, and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the following discussion, but I know there are a lot of people interested in this issue and thought that I would pass it along as I received it. (It looked on its face to be a reliable source, but you'll have to take my word for it:)

Conspicuous Legal Disclaimer: I am not advocating one way or another for action here. I am just passing it along because I know our faithful readers are interested in such topics and may form their own opinion. I should also note that these are just state rules and do not necessarily have an affect on local ordinances.

During the last year, Ohio EPA released draft revisions to the composting rules and received comments from a diverse group of stakeholders. Ohio EPA believes the comments received helped improve the rules in a manner that is protective of the environment while making easier for all citizens to compost and for new composting businesses to get started. Other changes should provide existing facilities with increased flexibility for achieving compliance and innovate with alternative materials.

A very significant improvement resulting from input from citizens and organizations involved in community gardening is the proposal for a size-based exemption that would allow community gardens, schools, and any organization or person to compost yard wastes, food scraps, animal wastes and bulking agents, regardless of where the waste materials were generated, in an area no larger than 300 square feet. An exempted facility will not be required to have a registration, license, financial assurance, or follow the requirements of that registration including, but not limited to: daily logs, annual reports, inspections, and testing of the finished compost. The compost may be used in any location, allowing community gardens and urban farms to share their compost.

Another significant improvement proposed is for facilities that are larger than 300 square feet and need to register as a Class II composting facility (taking food scraps) to not be required to set a financial assurance fund as long as the closure cost estimate is $3500 or less. This exemption should be beneficial for commercial facilities that are starting at a smaller scale by reducing their startup costs (the amount of the fund plus the cost of setting the fund).

Updated definitions, better explanation of composting methods, updated testing standards are other examples of improvements that should benefit the industry in general.

These changes were officially proposed to the Joint Agency on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) on September 2011 and a public hearing was held on October 25, 2011. Given that the Agency did not receive any objections to the changes, it was expected that JCARR will give consent for final approval at their November 4, 2011 hearing. However, due to some misinformation provided to some JCARR members that could have jeopardized the rules (and sent them into a one year waiting period), Ohio EPA decided to withdraw the rules and file again on November 11, 2011. Ohio EPA believes it has answered the questions and clarified the confusion. The current comment period ends on January 4, 2012 and the next JCARR hearing is on January 23rd.

For those that want to ensure that these changes to the rules are accepted and enforceable as soon as possible, it is encouraged that they take advantage of the stakeholder comment period and send comments supporting these changes to Ohio EPA. It is important that stakeholders explain the impact they will face if these rules are further delayed or not approved.

Written comments should be sent to the attention of Michelle Braun at the Division of Materials and Waste Management P.O. Box 1049, Columbus Ohio 43216-1049 or to Also written comments and/or oral testimony may also be submitted to the Hearing Officer at the public hearing to be held on January 4, 2012. Written comments and or testimony may be also be
submitted at the JCARR hearing on January 23, 2012.

To see the rules, response to comments and information on the public hearing, please follow this link.

I then pulled information from that site:

Composting Rules Filed with JCARRThe Division of Materials and Waste Management (DMWM), has withdrawn the previous rule filing and has filed new proposed composting regulations OAC Chapter 3745-560, and associated multi-program chapters 3745-500 (General Administration), 3745-501 (Licensing), and 3745-503 (Financial Assurance), with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR).
To view a copy of the rules, click here.
To view a copy of the public notice, click here.
To view the response to comments document, click here.
To view the compost rules page, click here.
Please submit your comments by January 4, 2012.
Please send your comments to:
Michelle Braun; Ohio EPA, DSIWM; PO Box 1049; Columbus, OH 43216-1049
Phone: (614) 728-5372; Fax: (614) 728-5315; Email:

To view the Interested Party Notification from December 2010, click here.

This is a lot to digest. Happy Reading

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