Soil hotels could be just the ticket for precious resource too often lost to landfill

Piles of soil

You’ve perhaps heard of insect hotels but what about soil hotels?

Sometimes thought of as the ‘Cinderella’ of the natural world, soils store more carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined, are a precious resource which all too often goes unnoticed, underappreciated and at worst, simply thrown away.

More than half of the soil deriving from construction and demolition projects in England finds its way into landfill, arising to £1.42 billion annually as a functional value loss. Although in some cases soil has become contaminated, and poses a risk to people and the planet if not disposed of carefully. In the overwhelming majority of cases (98% was classified as inert waste) perfectly safe soil is sent via skips to landfill each year.

Drawing on examples of best practice from New York to the Netherlands, Lancaster University researchers along with the Environment Agency and other university partners are working to tackle the amount of soil that finds its way into landfill each year with a series of policy recommendations and the introduction of a soil reuse and storage system, including soil ‘hotels’ and ‘hospitals’.

In their report ‘Potential for a Soil Reuse and Storage system in England’ Soil Hotels are defined as ‘fixed facilities for temporary relocation of clean, natural soils’, whereas Soil Hospitals would be facilities for treatment of contaminated soils as well as manufacturing soil with improved quality.

Soil is a limited, non-renewable source and underpins a plethora of vital ecosystem services essential to climate control, water quality, nutrient cycling and more. It forms incredibly slowly, is lost at variable rates through natural erosion or abruptly and in large volumes (from two up to 40,000 times greater than pre-construction conditions) as a result of the construction industry.

Dr Angeliki Kourmouli, lead author of the report, said: “Soils are often overlooked when it comes to a construction or development project, and their management is not considered during the early planning stages. Soil handling within development is often mismanaged due to inadequate on-site monitoring and enforcement of existing controls. Moreover, storing soil on-site has been described as a critical obstacle when it comes to soil reuse. We believe that with some changes we could develop a pathway towards a more circular and better management of soil in England.

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