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Recycled Plasterboard in Agricultural Applications Receive Funding by WRAP

Two projects which will trial the use of recycled plasterboard in agricultural applications have received funding from WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme). The two projects form part of WRAP’s programme to broaden the range of potential end-uses for recycled plasterboard as a means of stimulating market demand.

The Dairy Group, one of the leading independent dairy consultancies in the UK and Europe, has been awarded a contract worth £69,000 to develop and evaluate the potential of using a bedding material made from recycled plasterboard for dairy cattle.

There are currently 2.2 million dairy cows in the UK that require some form of bedding during the winter housing period. The UK dairy industry uses around 9,200 tonnes of bedding every day, equivalent to a total of 1.7 million tonnes during this whole period. The total value of this market is estimated at £66m per year.

Inorganic materials, such as recycled plasterboard, have great potential as a bedding material for dairy cows as they restrict bacterial growth and promote udder health. In addition, if just five per cent of dairy farmers were to adopt this type of bedding, then more than 80,000 tonnes of waste plasterboard could be diverted from landfill.

Recycled plasterboard has reportedly been used on a handful of farms in the UK, but in an ad-hoc way without any trials or other evidence gathered to ascertain effects on animal welfare or milk quality. This project will develop a specification for the material and provide a rigorous evaluation - through research, trials and testing regimes – of its use as a bedding material on dairy farms.

The project breaks down into three distinct activities:

  • a farmer attitude survey to explore the scale of the market for a bedding material made from recycled plasterboard;
  • on-farm trials and evaluation of the suitability of the material as a bedding material for dairy cows; and
  • an economic evaluation to determine the potential financial benefits of its use.

The project, which is due to finish in October 2006, will describe - through a detailed case study and technical report - the practical considerations of using recycled plasterboard for this purpose, and highlight any special recommendations.

In the second project, Velcourt Ltd, the largest farm management company in the UK and with a leading research & development department, has been awarded a contract worth £53,000 to demonstrate that recycled gypsum from waste plasterboard can be an effective soil conditioner on commercial arable farms.

Application of gypsum to soils, particularly heavy soils, has previously been found to improve soil structure, and there are also indications it can improve the efficiency of uptake of nutrients and minerals by plants. These effects have both economic and environmental benefits through extending the weather windows in which the land can be worked, improved plant health, and allowing more efficient use of inorganic fertilisers.

The increasing cost of virgin mineral gypsum has deterred many farmers from its use. Recycled gypsum is not fundamentally different from mineral gypsum but can be obtained at much lower cost.

This project will compare recycled gypsum derived from waste plasterboard against virgin mineral gypsum to demonstrate that the beneficial effects it can provide are at least equivalent. This will be rigorously evaluated through two sets of controlled field trials, one on potatoes between February and November 2006 and the other on winter wheat between September 2006 and August 2007.

In addition, the trials will aim to establish the extent to which recycled gypsum can improve the efficiency of nutrient uptake. These will include assessments of crop yield and quality, changes in soil structure and nutrient status, as well as the relative costs of production. A scaled programme of inorganic fertilisers will be used in the trials to enable the results to be directly applied to commercial farms.

The project will deliver a technical report to include the statistically analysed trial data and a cost benefit analysis from both an economic and environmental perspective. It will also include a specification for the recycled gypsum and guidance on its use as a soil additive.

Dave Marsh, WRAP Materials Project Officer, Plasterboard, said:

“We are very pleased to announce these trials in applications which will not only provide benefits to farmers but also divert significant quantities of plasterboard waste from being disposed of to landfill. We will be working with The Dairy Group and Velcourt to promote these applications to farmers and provide guidance in their use.”

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