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Dealing with significant volumes of organic and inorganic wastes

The development of waste-based soil-substitutes and soil-forming materials (organic and inorganic amendments) is a sustainable and cost-effective option for significant volumes of organic and inorganic wastes produced by various industries whilst conserving natural resources:

  • Large amounts of inorganic wastes are generated annually by the minerals, construction and food processing industries.
  • Considerable quantities of organic waste are generated by the food processing industry and a large proportion of the compostable organic waste component still goes to landfill.
  • In the UK, 5 million tonnes of municipal compost are produced every year while current markets for the reuse of such materials are not sufficiently developed to satisfy net production.
  • A study of the socio-economic benefits versus costs of such initiatives would allow a greater understanding of the problems and opportunities that regional and city agencies face in meeting their waste related targets and the impacts of waste usage for land reclamation at the local, regional and national scale.

Novel composts in greenspace creation

Soil remediation using compost

This is an emerging technology that is gaining considerable acceptance due to its success for the treatment of various contaminants and its environmentally friendly principles. Research suggests that particular activities of compost can be enhanced to further increase the effectiveness of this technology.

Some naturally occurring minerals such as clays and zeolites interact with metals to form a matrix in which the bioavailability of the metals is remarkably decreased. This attribute, coupled with the biodegradation capability of the compost, could provide a unique and novel remediation technique. The ultimate goal of the technique is to return the site to its pre-contamination condition and to re-vegetate, to stabilise the treated soil. Novel composts can advance this goal by facilitating plant growth and providing soil conditioning and nutrients to a wide variety of vegetation, as well as reducing bioavailable contaminant levels.

Special-purpose compost

This can be developed to enhance specific attributes, produced from particular feed stocks to increase chemical and biological activity and sorption. Most of the research published in the field is based on the use of ‘un-amended’ composts. The scientific literature also indicates that naturally occurring minerals play a major role in controlling the environmental fate and availability of both organic and inorganic contaminants. We are particularly interested in the improvement of both the metal and organic-binding capacity of composts by the addition of inorganic materials.

This research is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is being conducted in collaboration with the Universities of Surrey and Cambridge through the SUBR:IM (Sustainable Urban Brownfield Regeneration: Integrated Management) consortium.

Industrial supporters include Thames Water, Terra Eco-Systems, Holliwell Seed and Grain Company Limited and Halcrow Group Ltd.

Research Objectives

We conducted research within the EPSRC SUBR:IM consortium designed to:

  • Develop a novel sustainable remediation technique that will rely on the use of waste produced materials (composts) combined with naturally occurring minerals (clays, zeolites) in order to enhance the biodegradation and immobilisation capability of the compost.
  • Perform nursery and field based trials to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology by monitoring the bio-availability of the contaminants of concerns to plants under specific experimental conditions.


SUBR:IM Bulletins 10 and 11 are available in the Downloads section, below.

Pitman, R. and Webber, J. (1998). Bracken as a peat alternative. Forestry Commission Information Note, Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

Ouki, S., van Herwijnen, R., Harbottle, M., Hutchings, T., Al-Tabbaa, A., Johns, M. and Moffat, A. (2007). Novel special-purpose composts for sustainable remediation. In: Sustainable Brownfield Regeneration. Liveable places from problem spaces. (Eds T. Dixon, M. Raco, P. Catney and D. N. Lerner). Blackwells, Oxford.

Moffat, A.J., Hutchings, T., Kilbride, C., Sellers, G., Sinnett, D. and van Herwijnen, R. (2004). Turning brownfields green. Green Places 8, 30-33.


Kieron Doick

Useful sites

Soil-forming materials in greenspace creation

What is ‘soil-forming material’?

This term has been employed to describe non soil materials used in land reclamation to support vegetation growth. These are usually derived from mineral wastes, such as:

  • Overburden materials
  • Uneconomic geological materials encountered during quarrying or mining
  • Materials from the treatment or refinement of mineral ores or raw products
  • In addition, other industrial by-products such as pulverised fuel ash (pfa) and gypsum from thermal power stations are sometimes used for this purpose, as are construction residues.

Soil-forming materials must also have the propensity to turn into soils over time, and this process is usually encouraged by treatment to relieve compaction, the incorporation of organic matter such as greenwaste compost, and the choice of appropriate vegetation types that will endure and improve the quality of the substrate.

Research Objectives

The majority of Forest Research’s experience of growing trees and other forms of vegetation on reclaimed land has been using soil-forming materials rather than true soil. So significant and successful research campaigns have been achieved on:

  • Opencast coal and colliery spoil
  • China clay spoil
  • Sand and gravel wastes
  • Brick clays
  • PFA
  • Gypsum
  • Fines and overburdens from construction sites


Bending, N. A. D., McRae, S. G. and Moffat, A. J. for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1999). Soil-forming materials: their use in land reclamation. The Stationery Office, London.

Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration BPG 5: Imported soil or soil-forming materials placement

SUBR:IM Bulletin 11 is available in the Downloads section, below.


Kieron Doick

Related pages

Plant, tree, soil and water testing

Research objectives


Ashwood, F.E., Doick, K.J., Atkinson, G.E., Chenoweth, J. (2014). Under-utilisation of organic wastes during brownfield regeneration to community woodland: Tackling the barriers. Waste Management and Research. 32 (1), 49-55.


Kieron Doick

Forestry Commission policy

Use of land degraded by former industrial and urban activity makes an increasingly important contribution to the expansion of woodland. Trees planted on such sites offer immense social benefits in addition to the possibility of economic activity on formerly unproductive land. This programme supports the related objectives of the English Forestry Strategy and across Great Britain generally.

Related links

EPSRC – Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

SUBR:IM – Sustainable Urban Brownfield Regeneration: Integrated Management


England Forestry Strategy

PDF, 1.35 MB

A New Focus for England's Woodlands. Strategic Priorities and Programmes.

SUBR:IM Bulletin 10: The Use of Compost in the Regeneration of Brownfield Land

PDF, 0.40 MB

CL:AIRE's SUBR:IM bulletins present practical outcomes of research by the SUBR:IM consortium which have direct application to the brownfield and contaminated land communities. This bulletin considers the use of compost in brownfield projects.

SUBRIM Bulletin 11: Integrated Remediation, Reclamation and Greenspace Creation on Brownfield Land

PDF, 0.56 MB

CL:AIRE's SUBR:IM bulletins present practical outcomes of research by the SUBR:IM consortium which have direct application to the brownfield and contaminated land communities. This bulletin considers the use of compost in brownfield projects.

Funding & partners
  • Enventure Northern Limited
  • Landfill Tax Credit Scheme
  • Maslen Environmental Limited
  • Halcrow Group Limited
  • Holliwell Seed and Grain Company Limited
  • Terra Eco-Systems
  • Thames Water
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Surrey
  • Waste Recycling Group
  • Wye College
Waste minimisation and utilisation in greenspace creation
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Waste minimisation and utilisation in greenspace creation