When I became a Master Gardener through the Cornell Extension in Ithaca, NY, they also offered a Master Composter course which I took, and I’ve been an avid composter ever since. Composters are great people with an earthy sense of humor and an almost evangelical passion for decomposition. So I was very excited when I learned that the US Composting Council had just introduced a new Consumer Compost Labeling program. First, I wanted to know why they thought such a program was necessary and what they hoped to accomplish through it. So I called Frank Franciosi, the president of US Composting Council and the North Carolina Composting Council.
Labels help gardeners use the right compost in the right place
As Frank explained, the new program consists of three labels for compost use: 1) Trees & Shrubs 2) Flowers & Vegetables and 3) Lawns.
Each is identified by an easily recognizable logo that certifies that this material has met STA standards – that’s the US Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance.
In the future they plan to add QR codes for customers, too. (QR codes are those funny looking boxes that smart phones can scan and then take you to a website or application. See Useful Tools for Learning in the Garden: QR Codes and Readers for more information or simply note the QR Code image below.)
Testing assurance encourages healthy soils, healthy environments
The US Composting Council was organized in 1990 to support projects that promote the recycling of organic materials because, as they say in their vision statement, this is “central to achieving healthy soils, clean water and a sustainable society.”
They established the STA Standards in 2000 to assure end-users that the materials or “feedstock” had been properly and completely composted according to best-practice-methods – a seal of quality. This STA seal of approval, accompanied by the testing results, has been available to large scale or bulk end-users or professional users, like landscapers, but not readily available or understandable by home consumers buying either in bulk or through a hardware store. The new labeling program addresses this problem by making the identification of quality, tested materials readily available and understandable to home consumers.
Now compost can be purchased at landscape supply centers, nurseries and building supply centers in bulk or packages around the country with the USCC seal of Testing Assurance or STA Consumer Compost Use labels.
Specific guidelines and requirements for compost labeling
This program was needed to assure the consumer that compost:
1) Meets EPA guidelines for pathogen reduction and heavy metal concentration
2) Is mature and stable enough to be used for horticultural applications with no potential damage to plants
3) Produced by a state permitted facility, which can also request the compost manufacturer’s Compost Technical Data Sheet showing the test results and feedstocks used.
As Frank said, “We now have an easy way for the homeowner to identify quality compost products that can be applied to their specific gardening needs.”
New Campaign: “Strive for 5% Soil Organic Matter”
Along with the new Consumer labeling program, the USCC is also launching a ‘Strive for 5%’ campaign encouraging folks to achieve a goal of at least 5% organic matter in their soil for a healthier, more sustainable world for ourselves and our children. Grow green!Where do you get your compost from? A big-box store, a local compost/mulch facility or do you make your own?
– Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener (’95), Johnson County, North Carolina