Closing the nutrient cycle in urban areas: The use of municipal solid waste in peri-urban and urban agriculture

Juan David Arosemena, Susana Toboso-Chavero, Biraj Adhikari, Gara Villalba*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Cities face the challenges of supplying food and managing organic municipal solid waste (OMSW) sustainably amid increasing urbanization rates. Urban agriculture (UA) can help with this effort by producing local crops that are fertilized with nutrients recovered from compost generated from OMSW. This research aims to determine the potential of OMSW compost to supply the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) demand of UA and the environmental benefits of replacing mineral fertilizer from a life cycle perspective. The Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) serves as the case study given its commitment to reuse biowaste according to the Revised Waste Framework Directive and to promote UA as a signing member of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. Based on crop requirements and farmer surveys, we find that the annual NPK demands of the agricultural fields of the AMB that cover 5,500 ha and produce 70,000 tons of crops are approximately 769, 113, and 592 tons of NPK, respectively. Spatial material flow analysis and life cycle assessment were applied to found that the current waste management system can potentially substitute 8 % of the total NPK demanded by UA with compost, reduce the impacts by up to 39 % and yield savings in global warming of 130 %. The more ambitious future scenario of 2025 can potentially substitute 21 % of the total NPK demand and reduce environmental impacts up to 1,049 %, depending on the category considered. Avoiding processing of mixed OMSW, mineral fertilizer replacement and cogeneration of electricity from biogas are the major contributors to these environmental savings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-231
Number of pages12
JournalWaste Management
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2024

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