Massachusetts – Composting Rules

Massachusetts modified its composting rules in 2012 to “better accommodate the siting of anaerobic digesters and other new technologies.” Revisions to the state’s laws on assigning sites for waste processing facilities (310 CMR 16.00) aimed to increase organic waste diversion into small-scale composting projects while simultaneously increasing the amount of renewable energy produced from anaerobic digestion. Another related development in the Massachusetts waste laws during the early 2010s was a state-wide ban on commercial and institutional food waste from entering landfills and incinerators, which took effect in 2014.


General Composting Permits

Under 310 CMR 16.04, Massachusetts allows certain types of composting operations to function under a general permit and thus to be conditionally exempt from obtaining a site permit. Specific performance standards must be met, and exempt operations include leaf and yard waste composters who have less than 10,000 tons on-site at one time (5,000 maximum per acre), so long as the material is composed of less than 25% grass clippings. Such facilities must also either register with the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), or generate all their leaf/yard debris on-site.

In addition, on-farm composting is also permissible under a general rather than site permit, provided the farm’s setup meets performance standards. General permits are available for those composting up to 20 cubic yards per week of vegetative materials, food scraps, and animal manure generated on-site, and then combining with bulking materials (either generated on- or off-site). Allowing agricultural composters to accept materials from off-site generators of waste under Massachusetts regulations (330 CMR 25.00) further lowers barriers to obtaining a steady supply of compost feedstock.

Those wishing to compost on-farm need only submit a registration application and comply with the policies outlined by the Department of Agricultural Resources. The Department considers applications based on the location of the composting operation, the operator’s willingness to allow site visits, and the operator’s knowledge of composting practices. If the Department approves the application, a compost operation may accept:

  • leaf and yard waste
  • wood wastes
  • clean newspaper or cardboard
  • clean, compostable (i.e. thin) shells, and clean bones
  • non-agricultural sources of manures and animal bedding materials
  • less than 20 cubic yards (i.e. less than 10 tons) per day of vegetative material
  • less than 10 cubic yards (i.e. less than 5 tons) per day of food material.


Organics Recycling, Composting, and Conversion (RCC) Operations

For operations larger than the exempt parties detailed above, an RCC permit must be acquired. RCC operations differ from other waste processing facilities in that they do not require a site assignment nor a solid waste facility permit. Such operations must, however, meet certain requirements to ensure no nuisances are posed to nearby people or the safety of the environment.

In order to be granted an RCC permit, the composter must comply with the suitability criteria found in 310 CMR 16.05. Among other stipulations, this regulation requires: a general description of the recyclable or compostable material; identification of the quantity, quality and sources of the recyclable or compostable material; the proposed method(s) for recycling or composting the material; and appropriate documentation that markets or uses exist for the compost, recyclable materials or products.


Ban on Yard Trimmings in Landfills or Incinerators

In the early 1990s, Massachusetts banned disposal or incineration of yard trimmings. State solid waste regulations (310 CMR 19.017) give MassDEP authority to restrict the “disposal of [a material if] the material presents a potential adverse impact to public health, safety or the environment.” In addition, the department may create a restriction or prohibition of a specific material if the restriction “will result in the extension of the useful life or capacity of a facility or class of facilities.” Restricted materials include, but are not limited to: lead batteries, leaves and other yard trimmings, recyclable paper, aluminum, and tires.

According to the Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan (p. 36), organics make up “more than 1 million tons of Massachusetts municipal solid waste on an annual basis.” By allowing for a mix of compost operations at different scales in order to cut out the yard trimmings fraction of its waste stream, Massachusetts hopes to achieve a robust and well-developed composting infrastructure. Furthermore, the state aims to expand infrastructure capacity through economic incentives as a means to further divert organic wastes from disposal in the near future.


More Information

Original post from July 30, 2012
Updated July 23, 2021