Agricultural waste

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agricultural waste are plant residues from agriculture. These waste streams originate from arable land and horticulture. Agricultural waste are all parts of crops that are not used for human or animal food. Crop residues consist mainly of stems, branchs (in pruning), and leaves.[1] It is estimated that, on average, 80% of the plant of such crops consists of agricultural waste.[2]

The four most commonly grown agricultural crops worldwide are sugarcane, maize, cereals and rice.[3] The total weight of all these crops is more than 16,500 billion kilograms per year.[4] Since 80% of this consists of agricultural waste, many tens of thousands of billions of kilograms of agricultural waste remain worldwide.[5] Some 700 million tonnes of agricultural waste is produced annually by the EU.[6]

Recycling agricultural waste[edit]

Burning of rice residues in southeast Punjab, India, prior to wheat season

Agricultural waste consists mainly of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.[7] Agricultural waste is poorly digestible and in unprocessed form not widely suitable as animal feed.[8]

Sometimes, agricultural waste is burnt, either as biomass in power plants or simply on land.[9] Burning agricultural waste on land is called stubble burning and is still common in countries like China and India where a third of the world's population lives.[10][11] Then, instead of being reused to make new products, valuable substances in agricultural waste are turned into CO₂, smog, particulate matter and ash.[12]

Today, burning of agricultural waste is increasingly banned and pruning biomass is used for applications, including woodchipper for bedding soils. Three categories of substances are mainly extracted from agricultural waste: proteins, materials containing cellulose and bioactive substances such as essential oils and carotenoids.[13][14] The increasing ability to isolate such valuable substances in a pure form increases the economic value of agricultural waste.[15]

Farmer burning, on a large scale, pruning and agricultural waste, leading to smog and loss of organic matter, among other things

Impact of agricultural waste on the environment[edit]

The world's population and livestock size is growing and that is where the rising demand for food comes from. The average European is expected to consume 165 grams of meat per person daily.[16] People around the world consume an average of 75 pounds of meat per person per year.[17] Global meat consumption has more than doubled since 1990.[18] Producing 1 kg (2.2 lb) of beef requires an average of 25 kg (55 lb) of crop.[19] The production of all this food also results in more and more agricultural waste.

In large quantities, agricultural waste can have a negative impact on the environment and habitat, for example through greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of unpleasant odours, and toxic liquids that can infiltrate water sources.[20][21]

The frequent and large-scale burning of agricultural waste also has negative health impacts on people who are exposed to toxic smog through the fires. Particularly in early autumn, large-scale burning of agricultural wastes worldwide results in frequent smog.[22]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies smog due to agricultural waste burning as one of the largest sources of ambient air pollution. All forms of air pollution combined cause 7 million deaths annually, including 650,000 children.[23]

Schematic representation of the waste hierarchy, a waste management standard

Besides the impact on air quality, burning of agricultural waste in fields also has a negative impact on soil fertility, economic development and climate.[24] The absence of environmentally friendly agricultural waste management further leads to animal suffering, water pollution, fertilisation, and decline in biodiversity, among others.[25]

According to the waste hierarchy, burning agricultural waste for the sake of energy generation is a less environmentally friendly treatment method than recycling or reusing it. Moreover, incineration for energy generation can be done once, while consumer goods (such as paper made from agricultural waste) can be recycled another seven times.[26] After this, it can possibly still be burned for energy, or even converted into biogas or compost through fermentation.[27]

In an effort to reduce the negative impact of agricultural waste on earth, some companies have focused on developing new technologies that allow agricultural waste to be put to meaningful use and returning to traditional non-combustion use.

Agricultural burning in California[edit]

California accepts burning as a tool to remove weeds, prevent disease and control pests, especially for rice and pears. Burning is allowed in Permissive Burn Days.[28]


Several companies worldwide use leftover agricultural waste to make new products.[29] Reusing agricultural waste is in line with the desired circular economy. In today's economy, primary raw materials are mostly used.[30] Agricultural waste, on the other hand, is a secondary raw material. They are residual (waste) streams from an existing industry that can serve as raw materials for new applications. Increasingly reusing materials as raw materials for the production process contributes to the EU goal of achieving a circular economy by 2050.[31]


CalFibre from USA has developed and build the worlds first rice straw-based medium density fiberboard (MDF) plant, located in Willows, CA. By utilizing rice-straw instead of timber, CalFibre spares the equivalent of 4,200 acres of forest (roughly 180,000 metric tons of wood) from logging, with the harvesting and transportation of such emitting 150,000 tons of CO2e. Additionally, preventing rice straw decomposition eliminates 66,000 tons of methane gas each year, equivalent to around 1.848 million tons of CO2. This approach also saves up to 18 billion gallons of water annually (meeting the yearly water requirements of 500,000 Bay Area residents) and curtails 1.4 million tons of CO2 emissions linked with water management. The second plant is currently being built in Egypt.

Paper and board[edit]

Agricultural waste is used as a raw material for sustainable paper and board by the company PaperWise. The stalks and leaves that remain after harvesting are processed into raw material for paper and board. With PaperWise, the cellulose needed for paper is extracted from agricultural waste. This replaces the proportion of cellulose fibres from trees, meaning that these trees do not need to be cut down for paper production, but can be left to absorb CO₂ and convert it into oxygen. Made from agricultural waste, this paper and board meets high quality standards and is available as printing paper, among other things.[32] It is also used for sustainable packaging and eco-friendly office products.

Bio-based oil[edit]

Vertoro is a spin-off of a public-private partnership between Brightlands Chemelot Campus, DSM, Chemelot InSciTe, Maastricht University (UM) and Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), which are making 100% bio-based oil from agricultural waste, among other things, as an alternative to fossil oil.[33]


Fruitleather Rotterdam makes handbags and shoes based on discarded fruit. Because 40% does not meet the requirements of supermarket chains, for example a crooked cucumber or a slightly deformed tomato, a lot of fruit goes to waste.[34] Fruitleather Rotterdam has therefore developed an eco-friendly production process that converts fruit waste into sustainable leather-like material.

Catering disposables[edit]

Eco-Products from USA sell catering disposables based on various agricultural waste streams.[35] These disposables are used for events, parties and single-use circumstances.


In Finland, the joint venture Suomen Lantakaasu has been established by dairy producer Valio and energy company St1 to produce sustainable transport fuel. This uses a biogas plant fed by manure and agricultural waste from Finland.[36]


PlasticFri is a Swedish startup that produces sustainable biocomposites. The startup's proprietary technology extracts fibrous materials from agricultural waste and non-edible plants to create an eco-friendly plastic alternative. PlasticFri's material contains no harmful substances and is fully biodegradable.[37]


Most farmers in developing countries are not aware of the alternative applications and therefore consider burning as the best option.[38] Therefore, large-scale awareness programmes are needed to;

  • Recognise agricultural waste as a waste stream.
  • Educate on the adverse effects of low-grade waste treatment methods such as incineration and landfill.
  • Educate farmers on the availability of economically viable options higher up the waste hierarchy and their benefits to themselves and the environment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mohite, Jagtap, Avhad, More (September 2022). "Recycling of major agriculture crop residues and its application in polymer industry: A Review in the context of waste to energy nexus". Energy Nexus. 7: 100134. doi:10.1016/ S2CID 251708592.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "FAQ". PaperWise. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  3. ^ Statistical Yearbook World Food and Agriculture. 2021. doi:10.4060/CB4477EN. ISBN 978-92-5-134332-6. S2CID 240163091. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  4. ^ "FAQ". PaperWise. Retrieved 2 November 2022.
  5. ^ "PaperWise – wise with waste". Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  6. ^ Fritsch, Caroline; Staebler, Andreas; Happel, Anton; Cubero Márquez, Miguel Angel; Aguiló-Aguayo, Ingrid; Abadias, Maribel; Gallur, Miriam; Cigognini, Ilaria Maria; Montanari, Angela; López, Maria Jose; Suárez-Estrella, Francisca; Brunton, Nigel; Luengo, Elisa; Sisti, Laura; Ferri, Maura; Belotti, Gianluca (August 2017). "Sustainability in Food Supply Chain and Food Industry". Sustainability. 9 (8): 1492. doi:10.3390/su9081492. hdl:20.500.12327/1725.
  7. ^ Awogbemi, Vandi Von Kallon (December 2022). "Pretreatment techniques for agricultural waste". Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering. 6: 100229. doi:10.1016/j.cscee.2022.100229. S2CID 250272032.
  8. ^ Cone, John. "Fungi turns straw into digestible feed". Wageningen University & Research. Retrieved 20 November 2022.
  9. ^ Shafer (2020). "Global crop waste burning – micro-biochar; how a small community development organization learned experientially to address a huge problem one tiny field at a time". Sustainable Earth. 3. doi:10.1186/s42055-020-00037-y. S2CID 227122083.
  10. ^ Jain, Bhatia, Pathak (2014). "Emission of air pollutants from crop residue burning in India". Aerosol and Air Quality Research. 14: 422–430. doi:10.4209/aaqr.2013.01.0031. Retrieved 23 December 2022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Sun, Peng, Chen, Wang, Wei, Li, Yang, Zhang, Wang, Mellouki (2016). "An estimation of CO2 emission via agricultural crop residue open field burning in China from 1996 to 2013". Journal of Cleaner Production. 112: 2625–2631. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.09.112. Retrieved 23 December 2022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Singh Yadav (4 June 2019). "Stubble burning: A problem for the environment, agriculture and humans". DownToEarth. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  13. ^ Gomes-Araújo, Rafael; Martínez-Vázquez, Dolores Gabriela; Charles-Rodríguez, Ana Verónica; Rangel-Ortega, Sarahi; Robledo-Olivo, Armando (2021). "Bioactive Compounds from Agricultural Residues, Their Obtaining Techniques, and the Antimicrobial Effect as Postharvest Additives". International Journal of Food Science. 2021: 1–13. doi:10.1155/2021/9936722. PMC 8463193. PMID 34568485.
  14. ^ Jin, Yang, Poe, Huang (2018). "Integrated processing of plant-derived waste to produce value-added products based on the biorefinery concept". Trends in food science & technology. Retrieved 23 December 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Yustira, Harahap, Nasution, Pranata (24 August 2021). "Isolation of cellulose from agricultural waste using different treatments". IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. 912 (1): 012020. Bibcode:2021E&ES..912a2020Y. doi:10.1088/1755-1315/912/1/012020. S2CID 244772567.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "Daily meat consumption per person, 2019". Our World in Data. Retrieved 20 November 2022.
  17. ^ "OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2015". OECD iLibrary. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  18. ^ "Meat consumption worldwide from 1990 to 2021, by meat type". Statista. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  19. ^ "Feed required to produce one kilogram of meat or dairy product". Our World in Data. Retrieved 24 November 2022.
  20. ^ Rappert, Müller (2005). "Odor compounds in waste gas emissions from agricultural operations and food industries". Waste Management (New York, N.Y.). 25 (9): 887–907. Bibcode:2005WaMan..25..887R. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2005.07.008. PMID 16129591. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  21. ^ "Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in Europe". European Environment Agency. 26 October 2022. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  22. ^ "Toxic blaze: the true cost of crop burning". United Nations Environment Programme. 16 August 2021. Retrieved 20 November 2022.
  23. ^ "Air pollution". World Health Organization. Retrieved 18 November 2022.
  24. ^ Abdurrahman, Muhammad Isa; Chaki, Sukalpaa; Saini, Gaurav (December 2020). "Stubble burning: Effects on health & environment, regulations and management practices". Environmental Advances. 2: 100011. doi:10.1016/j.envadv.2020.100011. S2CID 226315102.
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  27. ^ Kokieva, G. E.; Protodiakonova, G. P.; Dondokov, U. Z.; Shalbuev, D. V.; Voinash, SA (2020). "Production of Biogas using method of agricultural waste fermentation". IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering. 941 (1): 012019. Bibcode:2020MS&E..941a2019K. doi:10.1088/1757-899X/941/1/012019. S2CID 234430421.
  28. ^ Agricultural Burning California Air Resource Board
  29. ^ "From agricultural waste to marketable products". European Commission. 11 July 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  30. ^ "Raw materials". European Commission. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  31. ^ "Circular economy action plan". Environment Department EU. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  32. ^ "High quality and environmentally friendly paper and paperboard". PaperWise. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  33. ^ "Our Technology". Vertoro. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  34. ^ "Introduction". Fruitleather Rotterdam. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  35. ^ "Wheat Straw Clamshells". Eco Products. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  36. ^ "Valio and St1 joint venture, Suomen Lantakaasu Oy, ready to increase domestic biogas production". Valio. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  37. ^ "Technology". PlasticFri. 13 May 2022. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  38. ^ Oluseun Adejumo, Isaac; Adebukola Adebiyi, Olufemi (2021). Agricultural Solid Wastes: Causes, Effects, and Effective Management. doi:10.5772/intechopen.93601. ISBN 978-1-83962-559-6. S2CID 230572722. Retrieved 3 December 2022. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)