Skip to main content
Menu

Soil

Waste material to be turned into man-made soil

Recycled and waste material could be transformed into ‘man-made’ soil and re-used in agriculture under a new project being by the Eden Project and the University of Plymouth.

Scientists working on the FABsoil project say it could help tackle the major global crisis in soil degradation and loss, where, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, every year, around 12 million hectares of agricultural land are lost to soil erosion globally.

“What we’re trying to do is replicate the functions of the soil, but not the soil material itself,” said Dr Jennifer Rhymes, a post-doctoral research fellow at Plymouth University.

“The science community is making great strides in understanding soil and the complex interactions that occur within it, but our vision is to develop a more sustainable, self-regulating, living system that doesn’t require much subsequent management. There is, in fact, the genuine possibility that FABsoil could become more effective than our increasingly degraded soils, and that would be amazing.”

The man-made soil is made from a range of waste material from small businesses across the south west, such as composted green waste, clay, grit and bark, with scientists currently testing various blends.

Fake soil
Scientists are making soil out of waste materials

"In the UK, farmers are increasingly recognising that soil is one of their most vital assets. Sadly, much has been already been degraded or lost – so the prospect of 'creating' soils could be a potential game-changer for agriculture, as well as for other industries,” said Robin Jackson, of Agri-Tech Cornwall.

Over 80,000 tonnes of the fabricated soil is already being used in a world-glass garden at the Eden Project, with future batches being tested for improvements.

Professor of organic geochemistry at Plymouth University, Mark Fitzsimons, said: “As populations continue to grow, we face the real prospect of a soil crisis and taking direct action now is the only way to begin to counter that issue.”

Leader of the Eden Rainforest Research Group, Dr Rachel Warmington, said: “Working with Mark and Jennifer has allowed us to critically review our fabricated soils, informing the choices we make for our soil recipes and how we manage the Eden soils. Fabricated soils have huge potential for repairing agricultural landscapes and particularly in urban food production.”

The project is part of a three-year initiative with £9.6 million in funding, from government research organisation Agri-Tech Cornwall, the European Regional Development Fund, and match funding from Cornwall Council.

Its overall aim is to develop a blueprint for making soil from recycled and waste materials, ensuring it is stable and fertile, hosting a range of slow-release nutrients to fuel plant growth without the high demand for fertiliser application

    Comments

    tallagh

    6 Months 4 Weeks

    You are trying to replace soil, built up over generations of good land husbandry, which has been lost in one generation of poor land husbandry and the industrialisation of agriculture for quick profits. Well at least you have a plan and we are going to need one.

    However, what makes this green and pleasant land so wonderful is the variety of habitats which result from the variety of different soils types, the chalk downloads, the heavy clay areas, all with their own specific species of plant and animal. The future looks like monochrome fields and concrete.

    0 Reply

    Why reduce food waste?

    The stats about how much food we waste are everywhere, but less talked about is how food waste that ends up on landfill emits methane and contributes to climate change.

    Read now

    How to have an ethical summer

    From breaking the flight habit to choosing environmentally-friendly sunscreen - read our top tips for how to have an ethical summer.

    Read more

    Riverford summer eats

    From meat and veggie BBQs, to tempting picnic treats and drinks.

    Shop Riverford

    Why food is political

    Politics plays a vital role in shaping where our food comes from, whether through climate actions, Brexit, or farming subsidies, but it doesn't mean you can't also simply enjoy a good meal.

    Read more
    veg box

    Ethical organic veg. Delivered.

    Set up by Guy Singh-Watson 30 years ago, Riverford now delivers across the country with a full range of fresh produce, meat, dairy and more.

    Shop Riverford