Research on FOGO
The EPA commissions and conducts research to guide and support our programs and to inform our decision making.
The EPA's What’s the GO with FOGO? research report supports the NSW Government’s move towards increased source separation of organics to ensure safe and sustainable compost production and organics markets.
Two reports, prepared by the CSIRO, on biodegradable and compostable plastics also provide information to guide and assist in the production of high quality and safe compost.
A study of food and garden composts and other recovered organics in NSW
The EPA has conducted a study examining composts derived from food organics and garden organics (FOGO) and garden organics (GO) across NSW as well as some dehydrated food waste outputs. The aim was to provide an evidence-base to inform any management considerations that may be needed to ensure the safe and sustainable processing and supply of recovered organics in NSW.
The study looked closely at the characteristics of these source-separated recovered organic materials and analysed over 260 parameters. This is a large expanse on normal testing conducted nationally and internationally.
- Highlighted the need for better quality control of what ends up in the green-lid bin and better removal of physical contaminants before processing. While most of the recovered organics met their current regulatory requirements in NSW, some chemical contaminants that are not currently regulated were detected in the composts. These have been traced back to seemingly 'innocent scope creep' in the materials accepted as inputs in kerbside collections.
- Showed that as with the handling of other soil improving products such as fertilisers and potting mixes, good hygiene practices when handling composts is strongly encouraged and will minimise risks from pathogens. The source of pathogens detected in final composts and dehydrated food wastes is unclear at present. Ensuring pasteurisation is achieved consistently is a key point until more information is available.
Measures for improvement
The study shows that high-quality and low-risk compost derived from FOGO and GO can be ensured by implementing
- Better control on inputs and initial processing to reduce the likely sources of contaminants, achieved by
- Ensuring that physical contaminants such as plastics, glass, metals and paper-based food contact materials and packaging are kept out of the green-lid kerbside bins. The EPA’s 2022 position statement signals that only food and garden wastes should be placed in the FOGO or food only (FO) bins. The only exceptions are fibre or compostable plastic kitchen caddy liners used to transfer food waste into those bins.
- Ensuring that any physical contaminants are removed before composting begins.
- Improvements in monitoring processing practices and record keeping – to inform why pathogens have been detected in composts and how to remove or reduce them.
- Good hygiene practices when handling composts to minimise any risks from pathogens.
- Consideration of amendments to current monitoring requirements for final composts.
We will further consider whether pathogens and key chemicals need to be monitored.
- What’s the GO with FOGO? report (PDF 4.5MB)
- Dataset from the What's the GO with FOGO? report (XLS 172 KB)
Reports commissioned by the EPA to further inform the findings of this study are also provided and referred to in the What’s the GO with FOGO report.
- Risk assessment of PFAS and PBDEs in FOGO and GO composts (PDF 3.8MB)
- Addendum to the Risk assessment of PFAS and PBDEs in FOGO and GO composts (PDF 280KB)
- Quantitative microbial risk assessment of adenovirus and Ascaris in FOGO and GO composts (PDF 459KB)
- Brief literature review of potential sources of PFAS and PBDEs in food organics and garden organics composts (PDF 538KB)
The EPA and the Environmental Trust have funded the CSIRO to conduct two studies on biodegradable and compostable plastics in Food and Garden Organics (FOGO).
The studies support our position statement on compostable plastics in FOGO, and the inclusion of compostable plastics in the NSW Plastics Ban.
This study was funded by the EPA and examined the impacts on aquatic ecosystems of leached materials coming from five types of plastic bags. It found that several of the degradable or compostable bags could leach potentially toxic chemicals into the environment.
The report recommended that further work be done on risks to the terrestrial environment.
- See the full report, An Environmental Hazard assessment of biodegradable plastic bags – A preliminary aquatic toxicity assessment on the CSIRO website.
Compostable plastics in FOGO waste
The study of compostable plastics in FOGO waste was funded by the Environmental Trust in partnership with the EPA. It found adverse ecotoxic effects from compostable forks and plastic film, which were added to FOGO compost at double the current estimated quantities received at composting facilities.
This finding has informed our position on compostable plastics in FOGO, that compostable plastic kitchen caddy liners that comply with Australian Standard AS 4736-2006 for commercial composting are the only type of plastic that can be used, and no other plastic products or bags should be placed in FOGO waste.
The reports’ findings also informed our decision to include compostable plastics in the NSW plastic bans.
- See the full report Compostable plastics in green waste: a lowdown on their breakdown. Chemical and ecotoxicological characterisation of composts containing compostable plastics on the CSIRO website.