Organics Recycling Systems

Currently we have plenty of organic material or residuals (“organics”) available ready to be turned into value-added products, such as compost, biogas, engineered soils, and fuel, just to name a few.  Organics going to landfills constitute roughly 40% of our nation’s solid waste stream (EPA 2012).  Out of the food we purchase, 40% goes uneaten (NRCS 2012) and based on an analysis done in 2012, North Carolina produces approximately 1.2 million tons of food residuals (NCDENR 2012).  The state was also able to recover through food rescue, animal feeding, commercial composting, and anaerobic digestion 8.3% of the food destined for landfills (NCDEQ 2016).  These numbers clearly show that there is an open opportunity in the waste reduction and organics recycling markets.  Increasing the momentum, EPA/USDA announced a goal to reduce food waste by half by 2030 (USDA 2015).

In fiscal 2014-15, North Carolina composting facilities received close to 800,000 tons of mixed organic materials and created more than 500,000 tons of finished products, most of it being mulch and Grade A compost. If you would like to learn more about the 5-year trends of organic material recycling as well as food recovered in 2015, please refer to the NC Organics Recycling Study published June 2016.

Organic residuals are materials that the entity generating them does not have a need for, such as yard trimmings, restaurant food scraps, animal manures, biosolids, agricultural byproducts, and others.

As of Fall 2015, NC had over 50 permitted composting facilities, including over 30 permitted sites able to accept food residuals.  These facilities work in partnership with municipal solid waste departments, restaurants, schools, colleges, haulers, farmers, and landscapers to make the system work.

To turn organics into value-added products, the system must have each of the following on board:

  1. Generators: they have an amount of organic materials that they do not have a need for, such as landscapers, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, colleges, special events, farms, food processors, offices, airports, correctional institutions, wastewater treatment plants, industrial food manufacturers, and others. 
  2. Haulers: they move the organics from the generator to the processors and are crucial to the success of a diversion program.  Organics haulers can be existing waste (trash) haulers or purely organics haulers.
  3. Composters & Other Processors: they turn the organic residuals into value-added products such as mulch, compost, boiler fuel, biogas, and bio-based products.  These processes are achieved through the processes of grinding, composting, anaerobic digestion, and other microbiological processes.
  4. Users: they have found an application for the products created by the composters or bio-based manufacturers, which can be compost blankets for erosion control, soil amendment for horticulture and gardening, compost socks for erosion control, mushroom-based packaging, and more.

To learn more about each, including starting food residual reduction and diversion programs, hauling organics, permitting composting facilities, and the different compost applications, and more details, please see the sections below.

Figure 1. Key Elements of the Organics Recycling Infrastructure.


DEACS recycling staff are available to assist local and regional efforts in expanding or developing programs around waste reduction and organics recycling programs.