Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

The Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (CIBR): Putting waste to work

CIBR and local communities at hui in Kaikoura. Photo courtesy of the The Malborough Express.

CIBR and local communities at hui in Kaikoura. Photo courtesy of the The Malborough Express.

In 2011, the two biosolids research programmes in New Zealand joined forces to create a more integrated and cohesive research effort – in April of this year the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (CIBR) was launched.

Led by ESR, and in partnership with Scion, Landcare Research, and the Cawthron Institute, CIBR is a multidisciplinary collaboration between 10 New Zealand research institutes, universities, and research partners dedicated to developing appropriate and sustainable solutions that maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of biowaste reuse. Underpinned by Government Core Funding, this virtual research centre aims to address critical gaps in New Zealand strategies related to biowaste in recognition of the “national good” value of this research.

New Zealand produces nearly 700 000 tonnes of biowaste each year, waste comprised predominantly of organic matter (that’s approx. 2000 747s!). Biowaste includes the biodegradable parts of municipal wastes such as food and garden waste, paper, cardboard, some textiles, and wood. It also includes livestock manures and slurry, treated sewage sludge (biosolids), organic industrial waste (such as paper and textiles), and compost. Over 60% of this waste currently goes to landfill, more than half the total waste filling our landfills each year.

If biowaste is properly handled and treated, where required, it can be a valuable source of soil nutrients and play a useful role as a sustainable soil conditioner. New Zealand is falling behind other countries in the reuse of biowaste such as biosolids. In Australia, for example, only 15% of biosolids are sent to landfill, with more than 65% productively reused in agriculture and compost, and a further 15% stockpiled for use in the future. Currently New Zealand only reuses 17% of its biosolids.

Not only is this waste clogging our landfills, the cost comparisons are also convincing, with landfill costs far exceeding the costs of applying treated biowaste to land. In an agricultural context, biowaste may offset the cost of inorganic fertilisers, while improving soil quality.

For the past 3 years, the CIBR has undertaken work in two case-study communities (Kaikōura and Mokai) to help find alternative biosolids disposal/reuse options that satisfy social, cultural, economic, and environmental criteria. As well as the case-study approach, CIBR has been undertaking focused biophysical science into the fate and effects of emerging contaminants and mixtures of contaminants, which have been identified by the wastewater industry as critical knowledge gaps.

We have developed:

  • a blueprint for successful community engagement
  • an ecotoxicological platform that ranks contaminants of concern using chemistry and bioassays and also allows analysis of the impacts of mixtures of contaminants
  • smarter ways of recycling biowastes such as vermicomposting, pyrolysis for energy production, and manufacturing biochar to mitigate potential environmental impacts of contaminants.

The CIBR is set to play a critical role in moving New Zealand to a more sustainable way of managing biowaste. With specialists in environmental microbiology and toxicology, forest ecology, soil science, molecular biology, soil chemistry and biochemistry, social sciences, and Māori issues-based research, the CIBR has a broad range of skills. It also has strong connections with universities, industry and local authorities and a strong focus on engaging communities to educate and empower.

Jacqui Horswell — ESR, Centre For Integrated Biowaste Research
P: 04 914 0684 E: