SUSTAINABLE, CIRCULAR AND INNOVATIVE VALUE CHAINS USING GROWING SUBSTRATA ALTERNATIVE TO PEAT FOR THE CULTIVATION OF NUTRACEUTICAL SPECIES
The modern agricultural system is wasteful, with Europe generating some 700 million tonnes of agricultural and food waste each year. In the context of the agri-food chain, the ‘circular economy’ aims to reduce waste while also making best use of the ‘wastes’ produced by using economically viable processes and procedures to increase their value. In this paper we will try to frame the key issues associated with food waste into the emerging bioeconomy and circular-economic mode, suggesting that these three concepts are intertwined, and considering them unitarily might provide win-win solutions that minimize wastage, promote income growth and job creation, and prompt sustainable local development. In terms of performance and economic considerations, peat is in many ways an ideal constituent of soilless growing media. Peat has become the material of choice throughout plant production systems from propagation to saleable ‘finished plant’ material. However, the extraction of peat has well documented negative impacts on the environment; arguably the most important of these is the release of stable, sequestered carbon into the active carbon cycle, thereby exacerbating climate change. During the last 20 years, peat extraction has come under increasing scrutiny throughout Europe and particularly in the UK. This has generated an abundance of studies examining a diverse range of alternative materials (as compost, vermicompost, digestate, biochar). In the selection of new materials, environmental considerations have become as important as performance and economic cost. In this context there has been a justifiable emphasis on organic materials derived from agricultural, industrial and municipal waste streams. For future urban sustainability it is necessary to develop integrated processes, which can be part of a circular bio-economy. However the challenge still remains of simultaneously recycling the nutrients from the waste. The greenhouse horticulture applied to nutraceutical species is the ideal sector for improving the conversion rate of organic waste into food and health friendly products. On farm composting/vermicomposting/pyrolysis/anaerobic digestion and the use of the end-product to the partial substitution of peat in nursery activity allows reducing the environmental and economic costs in the production of potted plants.