End markets for compost products


Composting is beneficial for the entire community, and its potential markets are every home, business, school yard, roadside, and distressed vegetation area. Composting has diverse uses such as landscaping, erosion control, soil amendment, mulch, and weed control. To ensure product safety and market claims, standardized testing of compost products is crucial, and the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program validates the chemical, physical, and biological properties of compost. Large institutions such as universities can adopt procurement policies that minimize the use of fertilizers and water resources and prefer locally-produced compost. Similarly, government procurement policies should give preference to recycled feedstocks, regulated facilities, and quality-tested compost products. Landscaping water conservation ordinances should include the use of mulch and compost to reduce evaporation and increase the soil’s water holding capacity. Green building standards can also incorporate the use of compost in landscaping practices.


Applying compost and other soil amendments is an activity for the entire community. While large scale users are often the focus of educational and promotional efforts, the potential market for compost products is every home, business, garden, school yard, roadside and area of disturbed or distressed vegetation in the community. Efforts to increase the utilization of soil amendments are just as important as efforts to increase organics collection programs.

  • General landscaping
  • Turf establishment/renovation
  • Topsoil manufacturing
  • Erosion and sediment control    
  • Soil amendment
  • Landscape mulch or soil top dressing
  • Erosion and stormwater control
  • Backfill mix      
  • Upgrading marginal soils
  • Blended topsoil/growing medium
  • Direct land application
  • Weed control and improved moisture retention

The diversity of uses for compost stem from the variety of benefits produced when compost is applied to land and soils. Read more on the benefits of compost.

Because soil amendments have a multitude of uses, the demands of the project will require different chemical and physical properties such as pH, sieve size, carbon to nitrogen ratio and percent organic material. Standardized industry testing of compost products to ensure product safety and market claims is becoming increasingly important. The Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) was developed by a collaboration of the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Composting Council. The STA program uses certified labs with standardized testing procedures to validate the chemical, physical and biological properties of compost and applies a standard label to the certified products to allow end users to compare compost products.

Universities and other large institutions

Given the large green space maintained by most college campuses, a landscaping maintenance and procurement policy geared toward reducing the campus’s environmental impact can yield substantial results for the campus and the community. The use of locally-produced soil amendments on campus fields, gardens and lawns supports local composting infrastructure by creating a strong market demand for these products.

The following landscaping policy, adopted by Duke University, gives preference to locally-produced compost as well as other landscape practices that reduce the university’s environmental impact:

Supporting low maintenance and environmentally sensitive landscapes minimizes the unnecessary use of fertilizers and water resources, therefore reducing the University’s impact on the natural environment.

Procurement activity may include:

  • Employ sustainable landscape management techniques for design, construction and maintenance. These techniques include, but are not limited to, integrated pest management, grasscycling, drip irrigation, composting, and procurement and use of mulch and compost that give preference to those produced from regionally generated plant debris and/or food waste programs.
  • Minimize waste by selecting plants that are appropriate to the microclimate, species that can grow to their natural size in the space allotted them. Place preference on native and drought-tolerant plants that require no or minimal watering once established.
  • Limit amount of impervious surfaces by procuring permeable substitutes.

Similarly, a university or college can adopt the following statement in support of local composting infrastructure:

University adopts the following policy statement to support organics recycling in our local community:

University promotes beneficial end markets for organic materials, including compost, mulch, and direct land application (mulch and soil building uses), as these markets provide the greatest sustainable benefit to the local community and its soils. gives preference to compost amendments produced from locally and regionally generated organic discards and will incorporate these amendments into campus landscape projects to the extent feasible. (Adapted from https://www.crra.com/corc-technical-council)

Government Procurement

Local and state governments offer good potential contracts for compost producers and can help drive market demand as well as provide demonstration projects touting the benefits of compost products. Procurement policies should give preference to recycled feedstocks, regulated facilities and quality-tested compost products. For example. recent State of Colorado legislation requires the state to purchase compost from facilities registered and compliant with the state. This provides an incentive for composters to meet state regulations and eliminates a loophole where non-compliant composters were able to secure state purchasing contracts.
The following resources offer best practices for state and county procurement policies, and for transportation departments.

  • CalRecycle [pdf] offers guidelines on how to write procurement policies for mulch and compost that ensure consistent physical and chemical properties.
  • King County offers a compilation of contract specifications for compost as an organic soil amendment from the State of Washington, King County, and the City of Seattle.
  • State Department of Transportation (DOT) are potentially huge markets for compost products for land reclamation and erosion control. Read about the work of CalRecycle and Caltrans for example policies and practices.

States and municipalities may utilize landscape water conservation ordinances to oversee water usage and ensure landscapes meet local conditions. These ordinances should include the use of mulch in areas of exposed soil to reduce evaporation and the use of compost to increase the water holding capacity of the soil. See sample landscape ordinances from the State of California.

Green building standards are another avenue for incorporating soil amendments into landscaping practices. The Built Green © Colorado program includes the installation of at least three cubic yards of soil amendment per 1000 square feet of installed landscape area and promotes the use of recycled content mulch or compost. The City of Denver will require the use of soil amendment in landscaped areas before the inspection for a water meter, modifying the Built Green specifications to include the application of at least four cubic yards of soil amendment per 1000 square feet of irrigated area. The soil amendment must be from a list of qualified products from Denver Water. (The rule takes effect in August 2008.)

The Building Soil campaign, by the Washington Organics Recycling Council, helps builders and developers preserve and restore native soil on building sites, using compost, and comply with new state and local regulations on soil quality. New municipal storm water permits issued by the state’s Department of Ecology require builders to either preserve native soil and vegetation where possible, or restore healthy soil functions by breaking up compaction and tilling in compost. Towns and counties throughout Washington are expected to adopt these best practices into their storm water regulations. The Soils for Salmon campaign also features best practices and case studies for soil management at building sites.

On the national front, The Sustainable Sites Initiative is developing national standards and guidelines for sustainable land development and management practices which are expected to be incorporated into future updates of the US Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating SystemTM.

Many communities offer free mulch giveaways from yard trimmings collection facilities, and communities collecting source separated organics are using the same technique to stimulate compost demand and distributing free compost to participating residents, businesses and schools. In Boulder, Colorado, Eco-Cycle rewards its commercial composting customers with a free bag of compost once a year and delivers compost to participating schools for use in school gardens. Both programs help build the community connection between the nutrients in our organic discards and the nutrient needs of our soils.

Residents, businesses and organizations with organics collection programs could also be given discounts or coupons toward compost purchases as a reward for low contamination levels or to promote program participation and compost markets.

Rebate programs

The state of Iowa ran a compost rebate program in 2004 to induce the use of compost among first time buyers and to help disseminate information about the benefits of compost use. Compost purchasers received a rebate up to $5 or 50% off per cubic yard, whichever was less. The program exposed more than 90 first-time buyers, including companies, organizations and communities, to the benefits of compost and distributed more than 17,500 cubic yards of compost while rewarding nearly $50,000 in rebates.