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Ten-year legacy of organic carbon in non-agricultural (brownfield) soils restored using green waste compost exceeds 4 per mille per annum: Benefits and trade-offs of a circular economy approach

Lord, Richard, Sakrabani, Ruben
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.686 pp. 1057-1068
arsenic, bioenergy, biomass production, circular economy, clay, composts, copper, energy crops, green waste, greenhouse gas emissions, half life, land use, landscape management, lead, longevity, natural regeneration, nutrients, organic wastes, planting, soil organic carbon, subsoil, urban soils, zinc, United Kingdom
Soil organic carbon (SOC) was re-analysed 10 years after application of source-segregated green waste compost at a 1 ha previously-developed UK site to compare with the increases suggested by the 4 per mille initiative proposed at COP21 in Paris. Compost prepared to PAS100 standard had been incorporated once at rates of 250, 500 and 750 t·ha−1 in 2007 in clay subsoil prior to planting of perennial energy crops. Our results show statistically significant differential increases in SOC, total nutrients N and P, or contaminants Zn, Pb, Cu, As and B, remain from the compost application after a decade. For the 500 or 750 t·ha−1 compost rates the SOC increments in the upper 10–15 cm were 0.85% or 1.6% over the 4.9% developed from a baseline of 1.8% in control areas by a decade of natural regeneration. Calculation of the elemental loadings from the compost analyses compared to the present-day levels suggests SOC declines after application at an average annual rate approaching 10%, compared to 5% for the nutrients or contaminants, roughly equivalent to half-lives of 5 or 10 years respectively. The study demonstrates the long-term soil organic matter (SOM) additions, fertility benefits and technical feasibility of a one-off, high-rate application of waste-derived compost to improve urban soils, compared to the potential trade-off of adding to PTE loadings. This longevity of SOC addition, previously unrecognised in brownfield soils, may be inferred for other areas where further cultivation is precluded, as is typical after landscape restoration or under perennial energy crops for the production of biomass. This unprecedented result has wider implications for marginal land use for bioenergy and the opportunities therein for SOC management using anthropogenic organic wastes to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.