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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Amend the soil with municipal wastes or their composts Soil Fertility

Key messages

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Two controlled, replicated trials in Spain and the United Kingdom measured the effect of adding wastes to the soil. One trial found that adding municipal compost to semi-arid soils greatly reduced soil loss and water runoff. One found mixed results of adding composts and wastes.

SOIL TYPES COVERED: coarse loamy, sandy loam.

Supporting evidence from individual studies


A controlled, replicated experiment in 2000 on a semi-arid, coarse loamy soil in Alcantarilla, Spain (Ros et al. 2001) found that adding composted municipal waste was the most effective of three soil amendments, reducing soil loss by 94% and water runoff by 54% compared to an untreated control. Unstabilized municipal waste and sewage sludge reduced soil loss by 78% and 80% (respectively) and increased the soil’s ability to hold water by 43% and 24%. There were four treatments: an untreated control, municipal waste compost, an unstabilized municipal waste and sewage sludge. Treatments were tested in plots of 10 x 3 m and replicated three times. Stability of aggregated soil particles was measured and a runoff collector was installed downslope of each plot.



A replicated, controlled study in 2000 on sandy loam soil in Wellesbourne, United Kingdom (Rahn et al. 2009) found that adding sugar beet Beta vulgaris tops with compost to a barley Hordeum vulgare crop increased soil mineral nitrogen by 11 kg/ha and yield by 11% , compared to no addition. Adding paper waste with sugar beet tops did not affect soil mineral nitrogen but improved yield by 23%. Adding sugar beet tops with straw, compactor waste or double rates of compactor waste reduced soil mineral nitrogen by 25, 15 and 36 kg/ha, and reduced yield by 47%, 21% and 63%, respectively. Amendments were applied at 3.2-3.8 t/ha, including compactor (machine which compresses waste material to reduce the space it takes up) and paper waste from the recycling industry, recently-harvested wheat Triticum aestivum straw, compost from municipal green waste, and liquid molasses (thick brown, uncrystallized juice from raw sugar) from the sugar refining industry. Amendments were applied with 42 t/ha sugar beet tops.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Key, G., Whitfield, M., Dicks, L.V., Sutherland, W.J. & Bardgett, R.D. (2019) Enhancing Soil Fertility. Pages 627-648 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.