17 04 2019

Agricultural waste: a valuable resource

The population increase in the last decades has influenced the demand for food products from vegetal and animal origin and has brought with it the consequent industrialisation of agriculture in Europe. We are used to take for granted food availability without excessively questioning the impact of food production in our environment. But the truth is that our actions come with a price and one of the prices we pay is the enormous quantity of waste generated to feed our societies. Every year in Europe, millions of tonnes of crops and livestock resources go to waste. 

Livestock and crops waste: an uncomfortable reality

In the case of livestock industries, the production of meat, milk and eggs generates large volumes of waste with the consequent impact on the environment. If livestock waste is not adequately managed, there are risks of water pollution by excess of nitrates or carbon, air pollution by greenhouse gas emissions and soil pollution due to the accumulation of nutrients. In addition, animal wastes are generally associated with health risk to humans and animals if not properly managed.

The impact of crop waste in our environment is lower, but it has direct consequences on air pollution: the incineration of crop residues in field is a common practice to eliminate waste after harvesting.

Turning waste into a resource

As the demand for food from crops and animal products is expected to increase in the next years, managing livestock and crop waste becomes essential to protect our environment and the sustainability of our ecosystems. This is where circular economy becomes essential by converting waste into a sustainable resource.

Animal wastes in the form of manures are valuable organic fertilisers for use in the maintenance of soil fertility and crop production. This waste can also be used to produce biogas for local energy needs. As we can re-use animal waste, we can do the same with crops. Plant residues can be used as animal feed, but also to produce biofuels, fertilise the soil and protect it from erosion or generate new food-stuffs and products.

In this circular conception, R&D is essential to rethink our production processes and develop new technologies and techniques that can efficiently recover waste and re-introduce it as a new resource in our production systems.