School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Te Kura Matū, Seminar Series

Biological wastes and the potential to improve NZ's environment


Brett Robinson, Professor of Environmental Science


School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Te Kura Matū, University of Canterbury

Time & Place

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 12:00:00 NZST in Rutherford Room 531

All are welcome


Confidence in NZ’s food products and the marketing of NZ as “100% pure” rely on our land-based industries combining a high level of production while minimising the entry of contaminants into foods and local environments. NZ’s economy is vulnerable if contaminants are found in NZ produce or our land and water become degraded to the point where it reduces the tourist dollars spent here. Biowastes (wastes of biological origin) are arguably the most important contributor to the degradation of New Zealand’s economy and environment when they enter waterways, contaminate high-value land, or require costly disposal. Biowastes in the form of nutrient-rich animal and human wastes currently contaminate rivers, lakes, and harbours. Diverting the organic matter and plant nutrients contained in biowastes from our waterways or landfills can provide both environmental and economic benefits: Biowastes reduce cadmium accumulation by food and fodder. Field trials across NZ are now underway for the eventual use of municipal compost as a soil amendment to reduce cadmium uptake by vegetables. Biowastes can augment the productivity of valuable native plants including mānuka, which can provide income from honey and essential oils. In turn, some NZ native species can inhibit nitrification and enhance pathogen die-off, resulting in improved water quality. The chemical processes that underpin the interactions between biowastes, soils and plants are incompletely understood. Unravelling these processes may enable small changes in biowaste management that dramatically improve both environmental and economic outcomes.


This is Brett's inaugural seminar as the newly appointed Professor of Envirnonmental Sciences.  Brett is located in Rutherford Room 758 in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Chemistry.