Did you know that agriculture, food waste and waste management generate more greenhouse gas than all the cars, trucks, trains and boats in Canada put together? It was to find a solution to this and for other reasons that researchers from the Jardin botanique and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) are working with partners from the Montréal agrifood sector.
Waste turned into fertilizer – and even into food!
Thanks to the circular economy, problems related to agrifood waste have been transformed into a win-win partnership. What’s happening is, bakeries, breweries and other local manufacturers of fruit- and vegetable-based products are supplying organic waste used as raw materials by Montréal-based entrepreneurs. By using innovative biotechnologies like composting, mushroom growing (myciculture) and insect rearing (entomoculture), these companies are turning waste into food or fertilizer.
Science for optimizing ecological profitability
These processes of organic-waste transformation depend largely on microorganisms that waste contains, which at this point are not well understood.
Over time, the project Omics to Close the Loop will allow for a better definition of these biological mechanisms and therefore for improvements in their efficiency – for example in diagnosing the health of agricultural systems, in making the most of how these perishable raw materials are used, or in improving the health of agricultural soils with fertilizers truly suited to urban conditions and able to increase carbon storage.
With the aim of more fully understanding these processes, the scientists from the Jardin botanique are studying how the microorganisms specific to these materials work. They’re examining the way in which agrifood waste is digested and then how the organisms that exist in these products improve soils and crops.
To unveil this infinitely small world of microorganisms, microbial DNA and existing biochemical mechanisms are studied by way of so-called omics technologies. This integrated approach, consisting among other things of isolating the microorganisms of interest, creating a series of databases and doing a computer modeling of complex systems, enables an understanding of the roles that each one may play with regard to greenhouse gases, carbon storage in the soil, and the health of crops.
Concrete, applicable results
Omics to Close the Loop brings together institutions, scientists and stakeholders from the urban agrifood industry to process waste in a way that reduces the use of fertilizers and foods with a higher carbon footprint:
- by improving the production of composting, of mushrooms and of the rearing of edible insects;
- by generating byproducts of great value for the health of agricultural soils and of crops;
- by combining genomic research with studies on social, economic, and environmental impact.
In the longer term, the project will offer solutions that can be implemented by the entire Canadian agricultural sector. In processing a greater volume of agrifood waste through decentralized composting (10%), through mushroom farming (5%) and through insect farming (5%), 220,791 tonnes of CO2 emissions could be avoided and 202,379 tonnes of carbon fixed in the soil in 2035 in Canada.
- Joan Laur, biologist-researcher, Jardin botanique
- Louise Hénault-Ethier, associate professor and centre director, INRS
This project is supported by a $6.5 million grant from Genome Canada.