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USDA to study composting methods.

USDA To Study Composting Methods

A comprehensive study on composting is being undertaken by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA). The study, which is already underway, is intended to identify composting methods, uses of composted materials and markets for compost.

Since composting may serve as a way of disposing of municipal solid waste (MSW), a number of people in the nonwovens community are keenly interested in the results of the USDA study. In fact, according to Dr. Charles Cannon, of the Solid Waste Composting Council, composting is already being used as a means of discarding disposable diapers in Minnesota.

Composting And MSW Management

In most composting processes, organic wastes are decomposed for use as mulch-type fertilizer. While commonly associated with agricultural waste, modern technology has developed ways to speed decomposition and allow non-agricultural wastes to be used in compost.

With landfill space in the U.S. dwindling, more technologies must be explored for disposing of MSW. Composting is one option that is currently available and is not overly controversial. In fact, the Solid Waste Composting Council estimates that up to 40% of all solid waste generated in the U.S. could eventually be composted.

Within the nonwovens community, some believe that the use of composting as a means of reducing MSW is inevitable. For instance, Recomp, Inc. is already operating a $20 million program in Minnesota that, among other things, is converting soiled disposable diapers into compost. According to reports, similar programs may be adopted by other states and local communities in the future.

One major stumbling block to greater use of compost has been the lack of markets for composted material. To increase demand, more markets will have to be created, which is one of the primary reasons behind the USDA study. In addition, some believe that demand for composted material may be increased if growers within the agricultural community can be assured that compost does not contain hazardous substances. This will be another element of the current research.

There is a growing Congressional interest in the use of composting to reduce MSW and, while the USDA has studied composting in the past, this particular study was required by Congressional legislation. The provision requiring the study was included in a little-noticed section of a major bill passed last year to authorize Federal aid to the agricultural community. It is not unusual for Congress to include provisions in legislation ordering Federal government agencies to study specific issues.

In this case, Rep. George J. Hochbrueckner (D-NY) sponsored the provision that requires the study. Rep. Hochbrueckner, an advocate of composting, has stated his belief that composting will be the "sleeping giant" of waste management. Congressman Hochbrueckner has been invited to address INDA's third annual "Disposing of the Disposables" conference, which will be held this September in Alexandria, VA.

Elements Of The Study

Under the provisions of the bill, Congress has required that the USDA compile information on: 1) composting of waste from, among other things, production, processing and distribution of fiber and forestry products; 2) potential uses for compost derived from these materials; and 3) any laws, rules and programs adopted by state, local and foreign governments that establish definitions and set standards for processing, handling and use of compost. Compiling this information into a single source will be a tremendous benefit in itself to composting advocates.

The bill also orders the USDA to initiate a "composting extension program," which will provide information to the agricultural community and the general public on issues related to composting. Specifically, the extension program is required to provide information on composting techniques and procedures for using compost. The law requires that this extension program be established by late 1991.

According to USDA staff responsible for the study, there is no fixed time frame for conducting the general research. The USDA has assembled a group responsible for the study and the team is currently in the process of establishing its research priorities.

Potential Consequences

According to Dr. Cannon, this study is one of "the most important long term developments" in the creation of markets for composted material. The legislation mandating the study is viewed by the Composting Council as "an important first step" in a federal policy that combines increased agricultural output with decreased municipal solid waste, two lofty objectives.

INDA is a member of the Solid Waste Composting Council and will continue working with the Council to ensure that all aspects of composting are reviewed as alternatives to disposal of municipal solid waste.
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Title Annotation:Capital Comments; United States. Department of Agriculture, composting of municipal solid waste
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:748
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