New Rules Aim to Produce More Compost

Door County’s two municipal composting sites are under new rules adopted in June by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Wisconsin composting facilities can now can take more material, can easily apply to accept food scraps and can voluntarily test their product to meet “Class A” standards. Large sites now have to track how much waste they take in and compost they produce.

“What we tried to do in the new rule is to get those sites to make sure that they’re actually trying to produce compost,” said Jack Connelly, solid waste program coordinator for the DNR.

The DNR has not kept track of how much compost has been created from these facilities in the past.

The city of Sturgeon Bay and the town of Washington Island operate the only municipal composting sites in Door County, and because of its size the Washington Island site is exempt from most DNR regulations. Sites with less than 50 cubic yards of material don’t have to comply.

The Washington Island compost site rarely has more than five cubic yards of material. The Sturgeon Bay site usually has about 6,000.

Although it could take food scraps and yard waste, fish guts are usually the only thing people drop off at the Washington Island site. Jeff Andersen, lead attendant at the Washington Island Transfer Station, or landfill, mixes wood chips and lime with the fish to make a good compost blend.

Tom Mengart of Sturgeon Bay Waste and Recycling works to push all the compost and brush into piles. New regulations from the DNR make large-scale municipal composting sites track how much waste they take in and how much compost they produce. Photo by Katie Sikora.

But so far this year, nobody’s dropped off material at the island compost facility.

“We haven’t had to do any of the new things we’re supposed to yet,” Andersen said.

Once there’s material in the island compost site, Andersen and other employees will monitor the temperature of the site and track when they turn the pile, something they haven’t done in the past.

“It’s all totally new to us,” Andersen said.

The new rules have only affected the Sturgeon Bay compost facility slightly. Bob Bordeau, public works superintendent for the city, said he had to buy thermometers to record the temperatures of the piles and use more “manpower that it takes to go out and monitor the piles every day.”

Sturgeon Bay’s compost is usually around 135 degrees and gets turned over and aerated five times per year.

The Sturgeon Bay site just takes yard waste, but Bordeau said he’d consider getting approval to accept food waste if a business was interested in composting some.

Although many county businesses compost, none take their scraps to the municipal facilities in Sturgeon Bay or Washington Island.

In order to take food scraps, composting sites must first get approval from the DNR. Getting approval is easier under the new rules, and only operations with more than 5,000 cubic yards of food waste – about 2,000 pickup truckloads – need approval.

Finished compost from both sites is given away to residents for free, and goes fast.

“It’s like a fight to the finish lines,” Andersen said.

With the new legislation, facilities will also be able to produce “Class A” compost that meets certain standards for composition, production and testing set by the DNR.

“If someone is willing to run the tests and [the product] meets the standards that are in the rules then they can label their compost as Class A compost,” Connelly said.

Neither municipality plans to go through the testing to classify compost as “Class A.”