Rhode Island – Composting Rules

The Rhode Island Department of Environment Management (DEM)’s Division of Agriculture requires most small-scale composters to submit registration paperwork to the state under the “Rules and Regulations for Agricultural Composting.” Certain composting activities–such as applying agricultural manures or composting agricultural by-products produced on-site–may be conducted without departmental registration. In order for an agricultural composter to accept paper, yard trimmings, or food scraps from off-site, they must receive approval from the Department of Environmental Management.

State regulations specify that if an agricultural composter accepts leaf or yard trimmings, wood waste, recyclable paper, or shells and bones generated off-site, then they must register with the Division of Agriculture and maintain operating records. However, Rhode Island tailors agricultural food scrap composting regulations based on the amount of material accepted. Registration and approval by the Department is solely required if an agricultural composter accepts:

  • Not more than ten tons per day of pre-sorted produce and/or pre-sorted vegetative scraps
  • Not more than one ton daily of pre-sorted kitchen, restaurant and/or municipal food scraps
  • Not more than one half ton daily of unprocessed meat and fish wastes

If more material is accepted than allowed for in the above list, the composter must comply with the “putrescible waste composting facilities operating standards” and apply for a full permit, as stated in Rhode Island’s solid waste regulations. These stricter regulations require the composter to demonstrate more stringent compliance with water pollution standards, erosion control practices, and a detailed facility operation plan. The application requires the creation of a site plan and map that lists any occupied structures within 250 feet of the compost pad, public water sources within 500 feet, and other information including a description of the soil type, water table, and access roads.

Rhode Island also requires that composters adhere to specific performance standards, although they are less encompassing than performance standards in other states such as those in Oregon. RI’s performance standards prohibit illegal dumping of waste material at a composting facility and minimization of odors, noise, drift of materials, and “risk to humans or the environment.”


Other Organic Waste Processing

Although agricultural composting remains under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island DEM’s Division of Agriculture, when the state’s disposal ban on organic wastes came into effect in 2016 additional oversight of newly developed organics processing capacity was needed. Hence, in January 2016, Rhode Island’s DEM proposed changes to Solid Waste Regulations No. 1 and No. 8, which pertain to “General Requirements” and “Waste Composting Facilities,” respectively. Changes to these regulations were adopted in April 2016, and now classify composting operations based on pile size into small, medium, and large categories. Materials on a site that are counted in this classification are those being stored for future composting and materials currently involved in the composting process. Stores of finished compost product is not considered when classifying a site.


Small facilities processing leaf, yard, and putrescible wastes are those with piles under 25 cubic yards, and are not required to obtain DEM approval. Such sites must produce Class A finished compost, be open to inspection visits by DEM personnel, and not pose any human or environmental health hazards or nuisances.

Small-scale operations may accept materials such as food scraps, manures from herbivores, hay/straw, corrugated cardboard that has been shredded, and uncontaminated woody debris. Under Rule 8.C.1(C), small-scale operations are prohibited from accepting: “diseased plants, black walnut tree leaves and twigs (releases possible harmful substances), grease, fats, meat scraps and bones, fish scraps and bones, shellfish, dairy products and eggs, oily foods, pet wastes (from dogs, cats, etc.), diapers, sanitary products, coal ash, and charcoal ash.”


Medium facilities are operations with composting piles larger than 25 cubic yards, but smaller than 600 cubic yards. To operate a medium-sized facility, one must register with the Rhode Island DEM and meet the requirements for Rule 8.D.00. Thereafter, if the would-be facility operators are not contacted with notification of application deficiencies within 21 days, then they are able to begin composting after that period.

Medium-scale operations are subject to many of the same DEM requirements as small-scale counterparts, including the acceptable and prohibited materials listed for small-scale operations. Feedstock material exceptions for medium-scale facilities are “grease, fats, meat scraps and bones, fish scraps and bones, shellfish, dairy products and eggs, and oily foods.” These materials could receive DEM approval for composting if a 60 day pilot program at the site successfully results in the operation being able to store and process the materials without producing any nuisances.


Large facilities are operations with composting piles greater than 600 cubic yards. According to the definitions contained in Regulation No. 1, there are two kinds of large-scale operations: facilities for putrescible materials and facilities for yard waste. Regulation No. 8 contains specific parameters for any method of composting (e.g. windrow or in-vessel) that might be in use at either a large-scale putrescible or leaf waste facility.

The compost pads, drainage systems, buffer zones, and other aspects of a large-scale operation must be designed to prevent human and environmental health problems. These include but are not limited to: water quality, vector control (gulls, rodents, and insects), and air quality (each facility must establish an odor complaint hotline).


More Information


Original post from July 30, 2012
Updated July 27, 2021

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Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.