Managing Organic Residuals PWT Meeting

Cornell Waste Management Institute


December 11, 2007 from 10 AM - 3 PM; Coffee at 9:30

Location:  Chenango Town Hall, 1529 State Rte 12, Binghamton, NY


Meeting Summary: There was a lot of discussion throughout the meeting.  The topics that demanded the most attention were:

1.      Training: both the November course and the push for what might be next with the NYSAR3 University Council that just started and the increased interest in food residual composting. 

2.      Choosing labs, sample analyses, what test methods are used and how do we interpret the results?

3.      Banning leaf and yard waste from landfills and amending regulations to encourage food waste composting

4.      What should be on a label or info sheet?


Presentation: Testing for potentially harmful chemicals. Murray McBride, Professor, Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell.  Are the test methods being used for metals giving us the information we need for plant animal and human safety?


To Do’s:

Bob Graves, Penn State – will send a paper about greenhouse gas emissions from food waste composting. (done, contact CWMI if you want a copy)

All - Updating CWMI Compost Facility maps- we count on people like yourselves to help give us leads to facilities, etc that want to be on the map.

Ellen Harrison, CWMI – Until recently, composters couldn’t report test results because of fertilizer rules only guaranteed minimum NPK could be reported. That doesn’t work for composts, DAM changed the rules for agricultural composts so characteristics can be reported on label. Ellen says wouldn’t apply to leaf and yard facilities, but Jean Bonhotal thinks it does – will need to check.


List of attendees



Almstead Nursery

Sean Allison

Broome County Solid Waste

Debra Smith

Cattaraugus County Department of Public Works

Al Ormond

Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County

Kevin Mathers

Cornell Cooperative Extension Chautauqua County

Wendy Sanflippo

Cornell Cooperative Extension Chenango County

Keith Severson

Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County

Adam Michaelides

Cornell University

Amy Risen

Cornell Waste Management Institute

Jean Bonhotal

Cornell Waste Management Institute

Ellen Harrison

Cornell Waste Management Institute

Murray McBride

Cornell Waste Management Institute

Mary Schwarz

Cornell Waste Management Institute

Lauri Wellin

Delaware County Co-Compost Facility

Marshall Aikens

Delaware County Co-Compost Facility

Sue McIntyre

Ithaca College

Mark Darling

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Tim Baker

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Gary Feinland

Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency

Jeff Cooper

Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency

Andrew Radin

Pennsylvania State University

Nadine Davitt

Pennsylvania State University

Bob Graves

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Steve Davis

Town of Brookhaven

Neal Sheehan

We Care Organics

Brian Fleury

We Care Organics

Mike McGrath



Testing for potentially harmful chemicals: presented by Murray McBride, Professor, Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, New Director of CWMI

§      Testing processes for metal contaminants in soils are very crude - they've been used for a very long time with few changes Contaminants that should be tested for in waste materials prior to considering land application include trace metals and non-metals, but these rarely get analyzed in soils or waste materials, Other contaminants important to test for include persistent Organic chemicals: these POP’s bioaccumulate in fat in people and animals and are found in a wide range of different wastes - The third main type of contaminant of concern is pathogens - (Murray doesn't work with these).

§      Murray's forte is metals: toxic metals in soils can damage crops, or if they do not damage crops, can make the plant toxic to animals

§      Metals of concern: all on EPA’s 503 list: phytotoxic: Cu, Zn, Ni, zootoxic: Pb, Cd, Hg, As - Molybdenum is zootoxic to ruminants - plants readily take it up, but it doesn't hurt the plants - makes ruminants not able to take up copper and thus become copper deficient

§      It is possible to test for all of the metal contaminants above simultaneously, but in most cases you will not find these

§      Maybe the only practical way to check for organic contaminants is to use a bioassay – e.g., check to see if earthworms die - if they do, then there's a problem - if not, assume there's not

§      If send samples to Cornell for metal analysis and don't specify the purpose of the test, the lab will use Morgan's solution to extract the metal from the soils and wastes - this test is only used in the Northeast - PA uses the Mehlich 3 extract- Murray says that these extractants are too aggressive - he suggests using a dilute salt to extract the metal to estimate what is available to the plant.

§      Most states in US use Mehlich 3. which extracts about 25- 30 % of the total metal concentration in the soil - when doing soil tests to comply with the EPA 503 regulation , an even more aggressive extraction with strong acid is done because you really want the total metals to comply with this rule.

§      The soil test value you get when extract for metals with dilute salt commonly correlates well with the amount of metal that you will get in your crop, so it makes sense to use this test if you’re interested in plant availability and crop quality.  On the other hand, traditional soil tests don't adequately predict metal uptake by crops

§      So, the test you choose depends on what you are after. If you're worried about human or animal contamination through soil ingestion, for example, then you probably want to measure soil total metal, but if you're concerned about metal levels in the crop, you can estimate plant uptake using salt extraction methods.

§      Field research for validating these soil tests is, however, very variable, as plant uptake is affected by a number of variables, such as climatic conditions, not measured by soil tests.


§      Soil or waste samples sent to different labs for testing can give different results because of different methods used.

§      Is metal uptake and sensitivity is different by different plant species? In testing for available metals in soils, what test plant should be used? Are there recommendations from labs as to what or what not to grow in certain soils based on the metal levels in the soil?

§      Murray compared total soil copper (done in his lab by acid dissolution of all soil solids) to copper released into solution with 3 different extraction methods. Mehlich 3 copper correlated very well to total Cu (was about 30% of total), Morgan's copper was quite variable relative to total (maybe the test measures plant available?), CaCl2 dissolved very little copper, although it correlated very strongly to total which Murray didn't expect – The CaCl2 test essentially measures soluble copper in the soil. Each metal will show a different relation to total when extracted with CaCl2 because each metal has plant availability that is affected differently by soil properties such as pH and organic matter content.


Other Discussion:

General Composting

§      Ellen asked if there was any move in NY to ban organics from landfills – Gary says “yes” they are looking at banning leaf and yard waste, but can’t do anything about food waste just yet, because there are no facilities really available to take it. He says the ban can be done by regulation.

§      Jean says that currently the county can decide whether or not to take leaf and yard waste – county by county bans.

§      CWMI has started to get more inquiries about leaf and yard waste – we used compost course to get some better data on yard waste compost. Gary would like to get views on organics ban.

§      Pete Grannis, NYSDEC Commissioner, is very interested in air emissions situation – looking at putting a paper together about comparing greenhouse gas emissions between composting facilities and landfills.


Compost testing

§      As part of the recent compost short course, DEC provided funds to run some tests on compost samples from leaf and yard facilities as well as some other facilities. Samples were run by labs that use TMECC methods for compost

§      Penn State lab sends interpretation with their report but there aren’t interpretations for everything especially metals – also, it doesn’t give information on the method used although they follow TMECC.

§      Analytes important in this testing are pH, soluble salts, OM, N, P, K, fecal coliforms.

§      This makes a case for a “label” Until recently, composters couldn’t report test results because of fertilizer rules, only guaranteed minimum NPK could be reported. That doesn’t work for composts, DAM changed the rules for agricultural composts so characteristics can be reported on label – Ellen says wouldn’t apply to leaf and yard facilities, but Jean thinks it does – will need to check

§      Compost information sheet: CWMI came up with content for the sheet based in part on surveys and what came out of research done on manure based composts. What do people think about the content of the sheet? We have not put anything on the sheet as far as methods; do you think they should be there? We’re hoping that compost facilities will take an interest in testing so they know what they have.

§      There are a number of reasons why results from the same compost may differ. One issue is that compost is heterogeneous and the amount tested is small so that two samples are not really identical.

§      Results may also differ when samples are sent to different labs. This may be due to different methods or may be that certain labs have different standards for the variability they will allow in the lab. Nadine says that there are also issues with types of tests and maybe they are not consistent with requirements for some certification programs. Another issue is testing compost parameters under compost conditions, not under soil conditions.

§      We Care Organics provides everything that is on this sheet – another thing that would be important would be bulk density – they also include a 12 month average of their metals because it is a biosolids product. Different results from different labs is very frustrating especially when you are trying to get into a particular project – need to check the methodology used to test or can sometimes get values that don’t make sense.

§      There are a number of methods that can be used to measure OM – weight loss on ignition is the most inaccurate, but the least expensive – the other method that is common is a chemical method that doesn’t oxidize all the OM in the soil. These different methods will cause large differences in the OM value reported. If recommending compost application rates and the OM is so different what do you do?

§      Based on discussion – should we take the testing composts fact sheet and go one step further and do one that is compost characteristics and test methods and what is the acceptable range for these values – what are some of the methods that are being used?

§      Yes, give ranges for each test methodology – this is my compost – this is the method the lab used – this is the acceptable range – It would be helpful if there was a dataset available giving acceptable ranges for each methodology.

§      One of the things in the On-Farm Compost Handbook would be to get some ranges from the labs – Would they be including their test methodology with that?

§      We need to know how much (sample size) the lab uses to run the test.

§      Most of the places that are doing testing routinely are taking several grabs from different places in the pile and then sending just one composite sample to the lab. Some people keep a back-up of each sample just in case it needs to be rerun based on some weird result.

§      Some facilities keep a cumulative database to be able to see if there are any outliers.

§      Does anyone do the plant response test? Brian says that it is done with the US Composting Council STA program – germination and growth are required (do it quarterly)

§      Delaware Co does the full STA testing including growth about 5x per year mostly for marketing purposes and they include an interpretation.

§      Particle size was done – in general, most people feel that the finer the better but maybe that is not necessarily true – bigger particle size is good for erosion control, etc.


Where to from Here?

Research, outreach/extension, other needs; what partnerships to do the work? Who might fund it?

Banning organics from landfills:

DEC is interested in a ban on organics in the landfills: starting with leaf and yard and then working into others from there. What do you think about a ban that happens immediately after the regulation, or should it be phased in and for how long?

  • Broome Co already has a ban on it, so wouldn’t affect them.
  • Capital region still takes them, would be hard on them.
  • Delaware Co has had a ban for a long time.
  • If the question is capacity (you already have a place to compost it), you don’t need to phase it in.
  • You still may need to phase it because of transportation and logistics.
  • Make sure that you have the education, the resources, and the equipment. The largest solid waste issue is to make sure that there is a place for it to go and that it will actually end up there.
  • We shouldn’t forget the first step, which is waste prevention – what can we do to reduce the amount of yard waste to begin with. Urge DEC to re-energize the waste prevention aspects of yard waste before and as a part of these regulations.
  • As far as timing of the ban a year would be optimistic, 2 years from now would be reasonable
  • What will happen if a truck comes in and dumps yard waste? response----fines
  • Are we envisioning a county by county facility to take the excess – would DEC have a role in helping to get this going? yes


A proposed change to 360 Regs is to change maximum amount for source separated food facility to up to 5000 yds of food waste before it would need to be permitted.


How are we going to increase capacity for composting?: Who’s going to take it (as we make these bans, and we have more zero waste events, how are we going to make sure that things get taken care of in the way they should?).

  • Cayuga Compost (private company) is getting some money ($5/ton) from Solid Waste in Tompkins County (since they are taking material that would normally go to the landfill) to help make up the cost of his composting. The facility also charges a tipping fee to the people bringing the food waste.
  • Composting is expensive and to be promoting this, we need to make sure that the economics are going to work.
  • To make it fly, it needs to be in the private sector.
  • It may work for some of the university systems to do it, and for others not to do it. Where the colleges have other sources rather than just food (i.e. farm waste, plant waste, etc) it makes sense for them to do it, but other places it may not.
  • So, how are we going to get more composters? It needs to pay.
  • Scenario: DEC just said that you can’t take leaf and yard waste anymore, the county says, we don’t want to compost, we’re going to get a private contractor to do it -does that become a monopoly?
  • That’s what’s happening on Long Island with some facilities.
  • Yard waste composting is very high in Tompkins County.  Tompkins County has 10x more than the national average for backyard composters. Tompkins County sells home composting bins at cost and provides education with them.
  • DEC is ok with municipalities giving away bins – they’ve worked around the issue of municipalities giving away property that was given to them by the state.
  • Onondaga Co. it’s not just capacity it’s also economics and we need to be able to calculate that – maybe have some fact sheets based on that – will the on-farm composting handbook have revisions on economics?


Composting invasives:

  • Delaware Co. wants to know how much research there has been on biohazards (i.e. invasives, AI virus, the melamine situation with the pigs). There is a lack of comfort with the amount of information that she has that says whether or not composting will take care of it.
  • Invasive aquatics compost demos (Onondaga CCE) trial pile at airport road facility in Syracuse
  • Japanese knotweed – DOT checked with Broome County about composting their Japanese knotweed – If DOT were to compost, could kill weed seeds, but cannot take care of the whole plant because of the rhizomes. They harvest the weed from the site, and you have to get everything. They were going to just do the pile with knotweed alone. If it were incorporated into a windrow that was already composting other things, it would probably work. Might not work at DOT because they are doing static pile composting.
  • The issue is how to stop the spread. If they are harvesting the weeds anyway, then go ahead and compost rather than throw them into the landfill, but if we are trying to eradicate the species, then we need to do it where we really know how to compost.
  • Is it worth trying to look at whether or not the rhizomes of Japanese knotweed are getting killed, or is it more important to just make sure that the pile is managed to get hot enough to kill it. Appears to be a management issue.


Avian Influenza:

  • Part of the plan for the AI is to work with the small backyard chick farmers too. The plan is to work with cooperative extension and feed places.  


NYS Compost Short Course

  • Interest in food composting was strong at the course.
  • Is there a need to start looking at some economic models for food waste composting?
  • We Care Organics gets calls all the time asking what people can do with their food waste. Can use the co composter model to help with some of this, but it doesn’t take collection into account.
  • The DEC exemption from permitting will be good to help facilities take other people’s food waste.

DVD and fact sheet on road kill composting

  • DOT in Syracuse was having a problem with deer on road side, so got with Cornell and started doing some composting, which led to the question of what’s in our piles. So, DOT gave money to do some pathogen testing.  Pathogen reduction was achieved.
  • Completed 6 workshops. Have been working with Nellie Brown on worker health and safety. Most of the hazard is in the collection of the deer.
  • Cattaraugus Co. – what do we do with our end product? From a regulatory point of view, ok to use for municipal projects.

Request for info on composting cat feces

  • Ellen and Jean say with heat, the pathogens will die, but home composters don’t get that kind of heat. If you were on a farm and had a pile, you could probably put your cat feces into that pile.


Proposals submitted:

SARE Multi-state Mortality Composting Education for meat waste - pending approval

  • Train more CCE educators, etc

A Proposal was submitted to NNY - to look at quantity and Quality of leachate from mortality piles

not funded.

Road kill project extension - DOT in Riverhead received funding to look at quality and quantity in road kill compost piles