Zoning for Small-Scale Composting in Urban Areas

Zoning Practice — September 2014

By Lauren Suerth, Alfonso Morales


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Composting is a natural decomposition process that converts organic materials to a biologically stable and nutrient-rich soil amendment. Diverting organic materials from landfills to compost operations decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the air and prolongs the life of existing landfills.

The interplay between federal, state, and local laws for municipal solid waste (MSW) can be complicated, and historically, governments have subjected organic and inorganic waste to the same standards. However, it is important to distinguish between the historical intent of MSW laws and the ability for composting to safely support sustainability initiatives and community garden uses.

This issue of Zoning Practice provides planners and zoning professionals with the basic regulatory context for organic waste so they can better understand the factors that influence how and where composting can occur in a specific jurisdiction. It analyzes the traditional MSW regulatory regimes and recent efforts that permit composting activities in urban areas and identifies zoning regulations that sanction composting activities as a method to create healthy soil for urban agriculture uses.


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 1, 2014
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Lauren Suerth

Alfonso Morales
Alfonso Morales produces applied and basic research findings on various planning topics including economic development, food systems, housing, and etc. Morales has created a body of books, articles, book chapters, and other writing that provides practical insight into the ways that economic activities and social interactions contribute to and influence community and economic development. He has published in the top journals of six different disciplinary associations. He has been PI or Co-I of more than $10 million dollars in sponsored projects and his new research includes contract work for the Vice Chancellor for Facilities, Planning and Management at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to understand how campus operations and planning facilitate academic research and teaching. Professor Morales received his graduate degrees from Northwestern University (Ph.D, 1993), the University of Chicago (AM 1989), and the University of Texas at Dallas (MS 1987). He was a Dissertation Fellow at the American Bar Foundation and a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. He has been recognized for his teaching generally and work with communities and students of color particularly. The Health Resources and Services Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, the Ford Foundation, and the American Bar Foundation are among organizations that have supported his research, and most recently was awarded a Vilas Mid-Career award ($50,000) by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.