Waste from the construction industry and dredged sediments could provide a safe and sustainable source of healthy soils thanks to a new project, funded by the France (Channel) England programme.
The €2.5million ReCon Soil project, supported by €1.8million from the European Regional Development Fund, starts in April and will run until June 2023.
It brings together scientists, industry and educators to revolutionise how waste material from construction projects is managed, both from a scientific and regulatory perspective.
The project aims to halt the amounts being paid by the industry to dispose of waste soil from building sites across the UK and France – currently estimated at more than €3.5billion per annum – while contributing to food security, agricultural sustainability and reduced carbon emissions.
ReCon Soil is being led by researchers at the University of Plymouth (UK), who have extensive experience in the development of reconstructed soils and the wider physical and social impacts of soil erosion and degradation.
Working with a range of partners in the UK and France, they will develop and roll out at least three new soil recipes made from locally-sourced construction waste, dredged sediments and agricultural by-products.
These recipes will initially be thoroughly investigated in laboratories, and then further assessed in the field at sites in the UK and France, to monitor their effectiveness and potential environmental impact.
The data from those studies will then be incorporated into blueprints detailing when and where the soils can be deployed, and any amendments needed to ensure their effective deployment.
It will also establish five new low-carbon technology networks – with members from the construction, agricultural, conservation, and public sectors – and train 200 workers, helping to take reconstructed soils from research to commercialisation.
The project will also explore the current policy barriers and regulatory impediments that would need to be addressed for the practice to be rolled out right across the construction sector.
The project aligns with the UK Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan, which calls for improvements in the approach to soil management and states that, by 2030, all of England’s soils should be managed sustainably.
It also responds to the action plan provided by European Green Deal, which calls for a new growth strategy to make Europe the leader in – and provider of – green technologies worldwide.
Mark Fitzsimons, Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the University of Plymouth and the project’s Principal Investigator, said: “The world is hugely reliant on good quality soils for food security and their ability to store carbon. However, soils are under both human and climate pressures which means there is a need to develop resilient and sustainable alternatives.
"Human intervention to sustain and improve soil was an ancient practice in the Amazon Basin and reconstructed soils can unquestionably be part of future solutions to soil health and climate mitigation. This project offers the exciting prospect of focussing the scientific and practical expertise of the project team to develop healthy soils and enable this process to be rolled out in the UK, France and beyond.”
Sallyann Stephen, Deputy Programme Manager, Interreg France (Channel) England programme, added: “Healthy soil is at the heart of agriculture and in maintaining quality food production across the Channel region.
“We were impressed by ReCon Soils ambition to develop three low carbon soil solutions that will reduce waste and carbon emissions in the construction industry, while contributing to the sustainability of the agricultural industry and future food security.”