Developing Sustainable Compost Markets through Public Procurement
New employees of King County’s Solid Waste Division and prospective compost use project managers tour composting facilities as a part of their training and education.

Like all recycling, organic recycling collections and processing systems cannot operate over the long term without robust markets for end products. While King County, WA has had market development programs for hard-to-recycle materials for more than 15 years, due to the China Sword crisis and the local circular economy potential of composting, it recently renewed its focus on compost markets and the role governments can play to support local demand.

King County has a commitment to Zero Waste of Resources which seeks to end valuable resources being sent to landfill and will also cut the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, organic materials comprised more than 35% of what was disposed of at the county’s landfill. Working to meet these commitments, organic waste would need to be diverted from reaching the landfill through numerous approaches, including through prevention and increased compost processing.

To help shape the approach, in 2019, King County hosted two facilitated full-day summits. More than 50 regional stakeholders from King County, regional cities, composters, waste haulers, landscapers, universities, regulators, nongovernmental organizations and tribes gathered to provide input on barriers, challenges and opportunities in organics recycling.

Alongside working with stakeholders, King County commissioned research from Cascadia Consulting, and a plan was developed. In August 2019, the King County Council approved the Organics Market Development Plan, which set out several market development recommendations for county staff to pursue. To execute the recommendation to expand the use of compost in government operations and to support government teams wanting to use compost in their projects, King County is developing a Technical Assistance program. The program includes:

  • King County awarded a universal contract to purchase compost from Cedar Grove Composting, the processor of much of the county’s organic waste. This contract will allow King County agencies and any regional jurisdiction choosing to piggyback off the contract to easily purchase compost at an affordable rate.
  • Hiring a technical expert and developing resources and tools for public agency employees. These materials will educate decision makers and project managers about the benefits of compost and will allow them the ability to know which type of compost to use based on their project type, how much compost to purchase and how to apply the compost.
  • It will also host a series of compost trainings for the staff of both internal and external agencies this fall.
  • Developing pilot programs to unlock new demand for compost. These include a project to use compost on King County-owned and -managed farmland, using compost as a cover for a closed landfill, and as a soil amendment for sites on county parkland restoration and citizen science projects.
  • King County believes that all these efforts together will create a robust market for compost in the King County and ensure the longevity of organics recycling in the region.

If you have questions about these efforts at King County, WA, please reach out to Emily Coleman at compost@kingcounty.gov.

Andy Smith and Emily Coleman: Through their work to develop markets for recycled materials, Andy Smith, Market Development Program Manager, and Emily Coleman, Sustainable Purchasing Specialist, support King County’s effort to build a circular economy and meet its Zero Waste of Resources by 2030 goal.