Leading Scottish scientists have invented a new cutting-edge tool to help farmers find the safest way to use organic waste fertiliser in a bid to reduce its damaging impact on the environment.

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, led by Dr Alejandro Gonzalez Ollauri, have developed the Waste to Land (W2L) computer tool, which identifies the best and safest places to use fertiliser in fields.

About 100 million tons of organic waste materials are spread in the UK’s farmland each year. The team from the University’s BEAM (Built Environment Asset Management) Research Centre was concerned that human and animal excrement used in organic fertiliser could leak into rivers, pollute the environment and enter the food chain.

Dr Gonzalez Ollauri said: “There is evidence to suggest that the use of organic waste materials improves the quality of the soil, enhances crop yield, reduces the costs to both industry and farmers, and thus contributes to a circular economy.

“The use of organic fertilisers in the UK is subjected to very restrictive regulations, attempting to avoid introducing pathogens, heavy metals and now microplastics into water bodies and the food chain.

“It is therefore crucial to reduce the environmental impact of recycling organic waste into farmland by identifying adequate locations for their spreading and by predicting the effect of such land practice.”

The W2L tool uses visuals and maps to show farmers the safest areas to apply organic waste, which is hoped will give them confidence in its long-term use.

Dr Gonzalez Ollauri added: “W2L combines environmental statistics and existing data to generate fresh intelligence. While the prototype of the tool currently shows a UK perspective, it will eventually be tailored so that you can drill down to individual plots of land.”

He says future work will strive to transform W2L into a “robust, user-friendly interface”, so it can be easily accessible for multiple users, including policy-makers.    

The study, Waste to Land (W2L): A novel tool to show and predict the special effect of applying biosolids on the environment, funded by the EPSRC through the SECURE Network, has been published in the prestigious journal Agricultural Systems. The study has been applauded by other environmental scientists around the world.