SOILCO has been a circular economy pioneer since 1985 when we started composting and organics recycling operations to improve the quality of our soil products and minimise the use of raw soil.
The circular economy designs out waste and pollution, keeps resources circulating at their highest value, and regenerates natural systems. Our current linear approach of ‘take, make, dispose’ breaks the earth’s natural cycle. We need to redesign the system as it was in nature.
An increasing number of local councils and businesses around Australia are offering food and garden organics (FOGO) recycling collection services. This enables valuable organic resources to be composted and returned to the earth to regenerate soil for dynamic growth.
The circular economy makes economic and environmental sense.
There are financial incentives for businesses to divert organics away from landfills for composting. To help meet the state’s waste reduction targets, the News South Wales Government imposed a waste levy to metropolitan areas including Sydney and the Illawarra and regional areas including the North Coast and the Hunter region. Composting facilities are exempt from this solid waste to landfill levy.
Residents in local government areas around Australia also benefit from councils diverting organic waste away from landfills for composting. Savings are passed on to rate payers who also benefit from a reduction in leachates and greenhouse gas emissions and a boost to local soil health.
The circular economy is a regenerative system where emissions are minimised, and renewable energy is maximised.
- Every 1 tonne of organics diverted from landfill prevents 1.5 tonnes of CO2-e being released, according to the NSW EPA.
- 1,114,500 tonnes of CO2-e were prevented by diverting 743,000 tonnes of organics away from landfill in NSW in 2019-20.
- Organics recycling is a multi-million-dollar industry in NSW. It employs 1700 people, generates $748 million in sales, and contributes more than $250 million in added value to the NSW economy, according to the NSW EPA.
Throwing away organics in landfills harms our natural systems.
When organic matter is pressed into a landfill, the oxygen supply is cut off. Organics break down anaerobically, releasing greenhouse gases that can escape into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Over time nutrients also leach out, polluting waterways.
The best value – and the highest value – for organic matter is returning it to the soil in an urban or agricultural environment. With access to organics recycling services, everyone can help restore soil, without the use of chemical fertilisers.
Compost and the soil food web are key to regeneration.
The popular Kiss The Ground film highlights how:
- Soil health, human health and the earth’s health are interconnected.
- A 1% increase in soil organic matter means soil can hold an additional 170,000 litres of water per hectare.
- This reduces the risk of drought and flood.
- For every 1% increase in organic matter, an acre of soil draws down 10 more tonnes of carbon.
- Increasing carbon in the world’s soils by 0.4% a year would sequester the same amount of carbon that humanity emits each year.
The Need To Grow film also shares these facts:
- Compost supports the flow of essential plant nutrients.
- When plants absorb CO2, carbon is fed to microbes through the roots.
- A handful of healthy soil contains more microorganisms than there are people on the planet.
- We need to feed the soil, not plants.
- Plants act as a storage container for what was once atmospheric carbon.
Prioritising soil health and empowering soil innovation.
The Australian Government recently announced $196.9 million in new funding over four years to implement the National Soil Strategy to value, manage and improve soil for the next 20 years.
An important action in implementing the National Soil Strategy is the Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund, worth $67 million over 4 years to enhance organic waste facilities and support community education to reduce food waste going to landfill. This includes:
- $59.8 million to deliver grants in partnership with states and territories through a Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund to enhance existing organic waste and processing infrastructure and make better use of this resource.
- $7.2 million to deliver a community and education program on the benefits of processed organic waste.
This funding will bring together governments, industry, researchers, farmers and other stakeholders to sustainably manage our soil.
Australia’s Soil Cooperative Research Centre (Soil CRC) CEO, Dr Michael Crawford, addressed this year’s Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) conference by highlighting how everything begins with the soil.
“One thing that can help farms to be more resilient in times of drought is good soil management, and higher levels of soil organic matter,” Dr Crawford said.
“Through the participation of AORA and the NSW EPA in the Soil CRC, we already have a number of research projects and PhD students that are looking at various opportunities for increasing the use of recycled organic materials in agriculture.”
Dr Crawford highlighted examples of Soil CRC research including:
- Researchers at Griffith University looking at organic materials as carriers for microbial inoculants, such as rhizobia and other bacteria and fungi, and as a means of enhancing water retention in the soil.
- Scientists at NSW Department of Primary Industries looking at how organic materials might be combined with lime and gypsum to ameliorate subsoil constraints.
- Researchers at Murdoch University looking at how organic amendments might be used to improve the productivity of sandy soils and enhance the nutrient and water use efficiency of crops on these difficult soils.
- PhD students looking at the value of a range of carbon-rich soil amendments for improving soil health and carbon storage; formulations of various combinations of compost blend fertiliser products to meet the nutrient requirements of major crops; and the potential of food waste valorisation products as a nutrient source and carbon amendment.
It all starts with the soil.
Linking organics recycling with compost, soil health and agriculture is a powerful line of circular thinking. Bringing back organic matter to soil:
✔ Closes the carbon cycle
✔ Regenerates soil
✔ Grows healthier food
✔ Improves human health
✔ Maintains biodiversity
✔ De-carbonises the atmosphere
✔ Mitigates climate change
Soil health is central to the transition towards a low carbon, circular economy and to regeneration of natural systems.
“Collectively, we are asking how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all aspects of our lives, how we can offset those emissions that we cannot reduce or eliminate, and how we can draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse the emissions that have already occurred,” Dr Crawford said. The answer starts with the soil.