Organics processing facilities

Processing organics on a commercial scale increases the community's ability to recover and conserve resources and reduces the quantity of organics going to landfills. Recycled organics applied to land can provide multiple benefits to soil health and crop growth, including improved soil structure, improved water retention and higher yields.

Organics processing facilities require planning consent and, depending on size, may also require an environmental protection licence. Guidelines and standards are available to help plan and operate well-designed, purpose-built composting facilities.

These facilities share the important responsibility, along with everyone in our community, to help protect the environment.  How you manage a facility affects the surrounding community. Maintaining good local relationships is the basis of your social licence to operate.

Commercial composting facilities require planning consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. An environmental protection licensing may also be required. The thresholds at which composting activities require an environment protection licence are contained in Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act).

Managing contamination

When licensed composting facilities receive organics material for recycling, they must comply with allowed materials, as specified in the facility's environment protection licence.

Composting facilities should negotiate with generators of organics material to ensure contamination in materials falls within acceptable levels.

Statutory requirements for land application of compost products

Managers and operators of organics processing facilities need to be aware of a range of statutory requirements that apply to the land application of recycled organics. These regulatory measures ensure human and animal health and the environment are protected when these materials are put on the land.

Resource recovery orders and exemptions

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) states that waste cannot generally be applied to land without the need to hold an environment protection licence and/or pay the waste levy.

However, recycled wastes can be applied to land if they are made and used in accordance with the resource recovery orders and exemptions.

Orders (conditions for generators and processors) and exemptions (conditions for consumers) are issued as a package by the EPA only when it has been demonstrated that the re-use

  • is genuine, rather than another means of waste disposal
  • is beneficial or fit-for-purpose, and
  • will not cause harm to human health or the environment

General resource recovery orders and exemptions are for commonly recycled and re-used, high-volume, and well-characterised waste materials including garden organics, food waste, manures, biosolids, mulch and agricultural crop wastes. It is the responsibility of facility operators to ensure that they and their customers are aware of the orders and exemptions obligations.

Where no order or exemption is available for a specific material, processing method or intended use of waste, facility managers should apply for an order or exemption.

The Environmental guidelines: Composting and related organics processing facilities (PDF 347KB) aim to ensure new and existing facilities are well-designed, constructed and operated to ensure minimum impacts of the environment.

These guidelines define the environmental issues that affect the management of composting and related organics processing facilities, and

  • outline the regulatory framework for these facilities
  • identify objectives, design requirements, performance requirements and performance measurements for dealing with each issue
  • identify benchmarks to measure and monitor performance
  • outline the types of issues to consider when planning composting and related organics processing facilities
  • identify possible environmental management techniques
  • list items to include in an environmental management plan and in a water assessment plan for composting and related organics processing facilities

Manufacturing quality compost that meets customer requirements is vital to operate a successful organics recycling facility.

Voluntary industry standards, such as those published by Standards Australia, provide guidance to manufacturers.

Australian Standards relevant to recycled organics or compost include

  • Australian Standard AS 4454 (2012): Composts, soil conditioners and mulches
  • Australian Standard AS 3743 (2003): Potting mixes
  • Australian Standard AS 4419 (2016): Soils for landscaping and garden use
  • Australian Standard AS 4422 (2016): Playground surfacing

What is compost?

When organics material breaks down, beneficial products are formed that can increase soil quality and productivity and yield many climate change benefits (PDF 947KB).

In nature, organics material gradually decomposes and returns nutrients back to the soil. Licensed composting processors use various systems to speed up this natural process.

Composts today are made from materials such as food and garden organics from household green bins, green waste from commercial landscaping activities, or commercial food wastes.

Different composting technologies can be used to produce quality, fit-for-purpose products. These technologies include aerobic composting systems, turned windrow systems, aerated state pile and in-vessel systems.

Turned windrow

Image of mechanical turning of an organics windrowMechanical turning of an organics windrow

This composting system uses horizontal piles, formed by a front-end loader or windrow turner, and aerated by mechanical turning.

The piles are generally 1.5 to 3 m in height, their length limited by composting pad size.

Aerated static pile

This composting method uses a blower to aerate a free-standing pile, moving air through perforated pipes located beneath the pile.


In this system composting takes place in an enclosed chamber or vessel, which typically controls the composting process by regulating the rate of mechanical aeration.

Aeration helps remove heat, and control temperature and oxygenation. The blower used to aerate the chamber can operate in a positive (blowing) and/or negative (sucking) mode. The aeration rate can be controlled using temperature, oxygen or carbon dioxide feedback signals.

Anaerobic digestion

This organics treatment system uses microbial action to decompose organics material in a solid, semi-solid or liquid phase in the absence of oxygen. Part of the organics fraction is converted to carbon dioxide and methane.

Systems may include covered lagoons, covered stabilisation basins, or completely enclosed agitated or non-agitated towers.

Methane recovered must be purified to remove carbon dioxide, in most cases, if it is to be burned for energy.

Anaerobic digestion mostly occurs at moderate (mesophilic) temperatures. In some systems, the methane recovered is used to heat the reaction chamber to higher (thermophilic) temperatures to speed up the digestion process.


In vermiculture composting processes, organic matter is broken down primarily by worm species.

Commercial vermiculture systems include

  • windrows or beds
  • stackable trays
  • batch-flow containers
  • continuous flow containers

The systems described above relate mainly to the processing of source-separated organic materials. Some facilities in NSW accept food and garden organics mixed in the red lid bins from municipal, commercial or industrial collections.

Alternative waste treatment facilities remove non-compostable and recyclable materials before processing the remaining organics fraction. They use patented processing technologies, such as a rotating drum, aerated static pile curing and in-vessel composting.

A range of composted products can be manufactured from the composting process including

  • soil conditioners
  • composts
  • mulches
  • potting mixes
  • biological enhancers
  • organic fertilisers

The allowable feedstocks for a facility are specified on a facility’s environmental protection licence.

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