Composting and Soil Management in a Regenerative Economy

Recycling organic waste to improve our soils is an integral part of a circular economy, and can even be described as contributing to a regenerative and restorative economy (Webster 2015). In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of Soils. We made commitments to our environment at the Paris Climate Change conference.  Now in 2016, the economy appears dismal. Who really cares about the soil or the environment if our economy is poor?

A Circular Economy can both improve our environment as well as grow our economy. Europe has been encouraging a Circular Economy, to “boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs” (EU 2015). In Europe, moving to a Circular Economy would save costs, create jobs and innovate, as well as improve our environment (Ellen MacArther Foundation 2015). They predicted that by 2030, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 48%, pesticides and agricultural water use, fuels and non-renewable electricity by 32%. They further suggest that if Europe chose to take a circular economy approach to food systems, synthetic fertilizer use could decrease by up to 80%.

“The circular economy, by moving much more biological material through the anaerobic digestion or composting process and back into the soil, will reduce the need for replenishment with additional nutrients.” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2015).

This is how recycling organic material through composting is important.  We have to move from our linear thinking of food being produced in agricultural areas, moving to urban areas, and the resulting waste piling up – whether it is landfilled or “recycled”. We are encouraged to begin with the end in mind – how do we restore and improve the soils that produce our food, so that we can benefit the economy of our rural communities as well as the amount and quality of our food?

In a recent Bio-Nutrient Circular Economy Conference,  Thornton (2015) discussed the resource consumption and food security benefits, the synergies with environmental sustainability, innovation and distributed employment benefits from moving to a bionutrient Circular Economy.  Siebert (2015) of the European Compost Network, discussed the importance of recycling carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus from our organic waste, and the importance of our soil organic matter. Webster (2015) stated:

“cattle grazing lush ranch land gives some clue to what a restorative biological cycle means: in this case better water retention as carbon levels are built up in vegetation and soil systems, leading to more resilience during drought periods; better output in terms of cattle per hectare; less erosion and greater biodiversity. Better flood control is a by-product for land downstream. All these benefits really need to be accounted for, but most are not.”

In the year ahead, I am excited to see how we can implement Circular Economy principles in our organic waste management to benefit our economy and our environment. The News reminds us that we need to do this in ways that protects our air and our water. Many of us are already doing some of this good work, work that contributes to healthy and sustainable communities.

One example of how composting fits into a circular economy can be found at: https://youtu.be/7G2owducZ8A Its a video called “Soil Organic Matter Offering Hope for Climate Change”

References

Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2015. Towards a Circular Economy: Business Rational for an Accelerated Transition. http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/TCE_Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation_9-Dec-2015.pdf

EU 2015. European Union – Environment. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm

Siebert, S. 2015. Policies and tools for the bio-nutrient circular economy: Carbon, Nutrients and Soils. European Sustainable Phosphorous Platform Conference Dec 2015. http://phosphorusplatform.eu/images/download/Siebert%20ECN%20ESPP%20GA%20slides%202-12-15.pdf

Thornton, C. 2015. Policies and tools for the bio-nutrient circular economy. European Sustainable Phosphorous Platform Conference Dec 2015.  http://phosphorusplatform.eu/images/download/Thornton%20circular%20economy%20slides%202-12-15.pdf

Webster, K. 2015. Exclusive preview from “The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows” http://circulatenews.org/2015/07/exclusive-preview-from-the-circular-economy-a-wealth-of-flows/

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