Shocking Truth About Modern Agricultural Waste and Pollution

We have previously discussed soil degradation and now turn our attention to agricultural waste and pollution.

As the population of the world increases so does the demand for food. This in turn leads to pressure on those in the agricultural sector to increase yields whilst doing so at affordable pricing. This has caused farmers to abandon traditional methods in favour of the intensive farming we see employed today resulting in greater agricultural waste and pollution.

Agricultural waste is produced as a result of various agricultural operations and includes manure and other wastes from farms, poultry houses and slaughterhouses.

soft fruits waste

It includes organic and non-natural waste arising from farming activities. Non-natural waste includes pesticide containers, plastics, tyres, batteries, oil etc. The Chartered Institute of Waste Management reported that plastic packaging from agricultural waste accounted for 1.5% of all plastic packaging in the waste stream in England and around 135,000 tonnes of agricultural plastic waste is produced each year in the UK. It not only poses a threat to the environment but also to the health of farm workers. In addition, people coming into contact with the waste can be exposed to harmful biological materials. Biohazards include fungi, bacteria, viruses and those working in the removal from animal and poultry units of manure can be exposed to dusts resulting in respiratory problems.

Agricultural pollution is contamination of the environment and ecosystem arising from biotic and abiotic by-products of farming practices and which can cause injury to humans and their economic interests.

Abiotic (not derived from living organisms) causes include:

Chemical fertilisers — the use of chemical fertilisers can adversely affect the soil, surface water and groundwater. The three main macronutrients used in chemical fertilisers are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers have major environmental effects. Rainfall causes the fertiliser to be washed into waterways and is a major contributor to the eutrophication of fresh water rivers, lakes etc. Nitrogen rich compounds found in fertiliser run offs are the primary cause of serious oxygen depletion in many parts of the oceans, especially coastal areas, lakes and rivers. Only a small part of nitrogen-based fertiliser is converted to produce and other plant matter. The rest builds up in the soil and is lost as runoff. The runoff goes into surface water and leaches into groundwater causing groundwater pollution. The nutrients, especially nitrates, cause problems for habitats and human health if they are washed off soil and into watercourses or leach through soil into groundwater. Cadmium can be found in phosphorus and a continuous use of high-cadmium fertilizer can contaminate soil and plants. Fluoride is also found in phosphate fertiliser and there is a real chance of fluoride toxicity to livestock that ingest contaminated soils. Also, of possible concern are the effects of fluoride on soil microorganisms.

Chemical pesticides — these embrace insecticides, herbicides and fungicides and are designed to eradicate certain pests. Unfortunately, they can also destroy those that are natural enemies of pests (i.e. insects that prey on or parasitize pests) than they are to the target pests themselves. They pollute water and soil, diminish biodiversity and are harmful to beneficial insects that are pollinators, threaten fish life and destroy natural habitats.

Heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic — these are often recycled into fertiliser because of their high zinc levels which is essential to good plant growth. These potentially harmful ingredients can be removed but at a high cost and are therefore left in many cases. Selenium occurs naturally in the soil and certain farming techniques e.g. irrigation, can lead to a build-up of selenium which can finds it way into the water system through runoff, leaching etc. This build up, once in reservoirs, is toxic to wildlife, humans and livestock and is known as the Kesterton Effect named after the Kesterton Reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley, California which was declared a toxic waste dump in 1987.

Leaching, Runoff and Eutrophication — chemicals applied to the land can percolate through into the water table causing contamination and can be part of water runoff from the soil into rivers, streams etc. Chemicals rich in nitrogen and phosphorus when they get into the water, increase the nutrient levels causing eutrophication. Algae forms and uses up most of the available oxygen in the water leaving little for other life forms causing fish and other animals living in the water to die. Algae also restricts the amount of sunlight entering the water affecting photosynthesis of plants and prevents the restoration of oxygen levels thus causing the water being unable to support life.

Soil Erosion — A great amount of soil erosion and sedimentation is caused by intensive agricultural methods and poor land management. Soil degradation was discussed in our previous blog but, suffice to say, it is causing an irreversible decline in soil fertility on about six million hectares a year. Sedimentation in water runoff can lead to transport difficulties in navigating streams, rivers and watercourses without constant attention through dredging. It can also limit the amount of light penetrating water thus affecting animal and plant life.

Biotic (living or once living organisms e.g. animals, plants.) causes include:

Greenhouse gases from animal waste — The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases come directly or indirectly from the world’s livestock.

Manure — Animal waste is a major contributor to air, soil and water pollution. Enormous volumes of waste cannot be assimilated by national processes. It is often pumped into open-air pits called ‘lagoons’ and then liquid manure is sprayed onto fields. The amount very often is more than what can be taken up leaving the rest to escape into the air or runoff into streams, rivers etc. This causes serious pollution problems. Improper disposal methods are harmful to groundwater, the environment and to human health. Dangerous and offensive odours and other air pollutants are also emitted causing problems for those in neighbouring areas.

Biopesticides — these are pesticides derived from natural materials and there are concerns that they have a negative impact upon non-targeted species.

Introduced Species — The increasing globalization of agriculture has resulted in the accidental introduction of pests, weeds, and diseases to places where they were never established and where they have become an invasive species. As such they can impact populations of native species and threaten agricultural production.

Biological Pest Control (Biocontrol) — this is intended for use against insects, weeds etc and relies upon predation, parasitism and herbivory. It also requires careful and considered management. Problems can arise through side-effects upon biodiversity because of attacks on non-target species by the same mechanisms. The introduction of such biocontrol can be irreversible and can include dispersal from agricultural habitats into the natural environment and host-switching or adapting to utilise a native species.

It is abundantly clear we have to exercise strict controls in our quest for greater food production at the cheapest possible price whilst at the same time maximising profit. The goal of achieving maximum profit has often meant the environment is paying the price. We see all around us how that price is being paid with contaminated land, toxic seas and rivers, climate change, soil degradation etc. not to mention the threats to human health. The ‘clear up’ problems will be enormous as will the cost and must be tackled now.

Organic fertiliser granules

As we have seen above one of the major problems is our ever reliance upon chemicals as we seek quick solutions to immediate concerns without a thought as to the consequences. It is clear there is a correlation between our use of chemicals and the damage being caused to the environment and the fragile ecosystem. Slowly the United Nations and Governments around the World are waking up to the situation, but it is also the responsibility of everyone to partake in solving the problems we are facing. Here at Organicco we recognise we cannot solve them all, but we can make a difference. We have developed systems that are designed to convert organic agricultural waste into fertiliser. So, for example farm manure can be put through the system and will be reduced by up to 70% in quantity. The remaining 30% will be converted into stabilised fertiliser which can be put on the land eliminating the damaging environmental consequences of spreading untreated manure. It also takes away the use of chemicals providing further benefits to the land and environment as the dangers posed by runoff and leaching are vastly reduced, if not eliminated. Using organic fertiliser will assist in soil enrichment reducing the problem of soil degradation. It is not just manure that can be used in this way to provide these benefits but any form any organic agricultural waste.

ecoHERO organic fertiliser plant

We have a choice. We can continue in what we are doing without giving any consideration to the future or we can try and make a difference. Organicco has made its choice and is happy to provide any further information that may be required on its products or on any aspect of this report.