Permit needs vary for on-farm composters

Chery Sullivan


For the Capital Press

Steve Brown's May 7 article -- "Engineer gets down and dirty on manure composting" -- gave sound advice for farmers and ranchers who want to manage manure through composting.

And assisted by Conservation Districts around Washington, folks should have no trouble finding help when they want to compost manure on their farms.

However, there's more to the story than was reported in the article. For example, it stated, "As far as permitting goes, (Rich) Geiger said, 'Keep it simple and you won't need a permit.'"

While that is true for many operations, there are criteria to be met and some circumstances will require a permit. The criteria and permit oversight are intended to protect public health and resources such as air and water quality.

In Washington, our compost regulations, WAC 173-350-220, mostly apply to commercial composters. They handle large volumes of yard debris, food scraps and other organic materials from residential, commercial and agricultural sources. Within those regulations, several exemptions to the solid waste handling standards apply to farms, small composters and vermicomposters -- worm wranglers. Qualifying for those exemptions means a facility must meet specific volume, feedstock and finished product standards.

While "simple" is often the best way to compost, it may not accurately determine whether a facility needs a permit or a conditional exemption from the permit.

Four different exempt categories apply to agricultural composting. Two of these are limited by compliance with Farm Management or Dairy Nutrient Management Plans. As mentioned above, depending on how the material is managed, different requirements apply. These may include:

* Annual reporting and notification to the local health department.

* Air, water quality and vector attraction controls (typically rats and flies).

* Finished compost testing for pathogens, metals, inert materials and stability.

Do you need to fill out the paperwork for a conditional exemption or to apply for a permit? Start with the list below to find out about online resources and staff who can help you.

* Go to

lhjmap.htm for a list of local health district offices by county.

* Go to

contact/Conservation-Districts/ for a list of local conservation districts.

* Go to

swfa/contact/ for a list of regional Waste 2 Resources contacts at the Washington State Department of Ecology.

When it's done right, composting creates solutions where there may have been problems. Done right, compost helps create healthy soils that hold water, resist erosion and slowly release nutrients back to the plants and animals. Learn more about the opportunities and obligations before starting a composting project.

Chery Sullivan is an organics specialist and the Beyond Waste Organics Initiative leader for the Washington State Department of Ecology. She promotes beneficial alternatives to landfilling organic materials.

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