Can we turn waste into fertiliser?
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The UK’s urban centres create high volumes of food and garden waste. Consumers are increasingly segregating this out for separate collection, which local authorities then use in anaerobic digesters and other systems before disposal, but the current practices are still far from making the full use of the nutrient value of this waste. Introducing more circular management approaches for this waste could bring significant economic, environmental and social benefits.
This Sprint, in partnership with Leicestershire County Council, is exploring the opportunities for nutrient recovery from waste products for agricultural fertilisers and other applications such as urban farming. It aims to develop circular-economy, low-impact alternatives to fertilisers derived from fossil fuels, which in turn will decrease emissions from farming, reduce water pollution from fertiliser run-off and increase food security in the UK. Each of these benefits could have further knock-on impacts such as increasing biodiversity, lowering food costs and local economic opportunities.
The Sprint is modelling the system change and industrial processes needed both on a county level and to scale up to an effective circular economy for nutrients across the country.
Why this Sprint? Why now?
The war in Ukraine is influencing the global food supply chain through direct shortages of food products from the region, but also through shortages of agricultural fertilisers. This is driving up food prices across the world and making governments rethink their food security policies. A shift away from reliance on imported fossil-fuel derived fertilisers is also key to the UK’s Net Zero Strategy published in October 2021. A parallel challenge comes from the waste management perspective to implement compulsory weekly household food waste collections in England from 2023. By understanding the options for nutrient recovery now, we can start to build viable, low-carbon alternatives to the current system and deliver greater long-term food security and environmental sustainability.