The Zero-Waste movement has gained significant traction in recent years. As more and more households are taking steps to lessen their environmental impact by reducing the amount of waste they produce, people are now looking to companies and entire industries to follow this trend as well. As one of the biggest causes of waste and pollution, agriculture is slowly shifting towards minimizing its impact on our planet. But is it possible for farming to be zero-waste? And what would a zero-waste farm even look like?
Agricultural Waste & Pollution
The majority of the environmental damage caused by agriculture is due to the waste of water, the destruction of soil, chemical pollution, and emissions of CO2.
According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, agricultural waste is “unwanted or unsalable materials produced wholly from agricultural operations directly related to the growing of crops or raising of animals.” This definition describes agriculturally-made waste such as fruit, vegetables, branches, leaves and weeds, and excludes man-made waste like trash, rubber, or plastic. However, all forms of waste can have a negative impact on the environment, especially in large quantities, as poor disposal of agricultural waste creates agricultural pollution.
Natural Energy Hub defines agricultural pollution as “contamination of the environment and related surroundings as a result of using the natural and chemical products for farming.” The effects of agricultural pollution are significant, and they include soil erosion due to inefficient farming, health related issues from toxic fertilizers and pesticides, and water contamination from the disposal of waste in local bodies of water.
For centuries, waste and pollution have wreaked havoc on the planet’s natural ecosystems, as well as contributed to a steady warming of the Earth’s climate. It is only logical for heavily-polluting industries, such as agriculture, to work towards processes that are completely free of waste.
What is Zero Waste Farming?
Zero waste agriculture applies the principles of organic farming to minimize agricultural pollution as much as possible, and maximize the use of available resources by creating a closed-loop method for farming. In practicing zero waste agriculture, nothing is wasted or contaminated, as the waste of each process becomes the feedstock for another process. Common examples of zero-waste practices are composting with worms or the treatment of wastewater.
A few of the major advantages of a closed-loop zero-waste system include:
- Optimization of food production in an ecologically-sound manner.
- Reduction of water consumption through recycling and reduced evaporation.
- Substantial reduction in green house gas emissions from both traditional agriculture practice and fossil fuel usage.
- Reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides through natural remedies and bio-pesticides.
- Reduce in the use of synthetic fertilizers through the use of composting techniques such as vermi composting, green manuring etc.
So, is Zero-Waste Farming possible?
Thanks to the development of hydroponic and aquaponic technology, many commercialized indoor vertical farms have taken significant steps towards becoming zero-waste. Urban farms are designed to replicate a natural, functional ecosystem in which waste is recycled and the water used in hydroponics and aeroponics is recaptured and used over and over again.
One urban farm who temporarily succeeded in implementing a closed-loop, zero-waste process was Urban Organics in Minnesota, who converted a brewery into an urban farm that used aquaponics to combine plant cultivation and fish farming. Fruits and vegetables were grown in water reservoirs that also housed fish. The fish waste fertilized the plants, and they, in turn, cleaned and filtered the water. This symbiosis is an ideal example of the type of closed-loop, waste-free sustainability: there were virtually no unusable byproducts, and there was little one needed to add to the system to keep it going.
Unfortunately, Urban Organics was not able to maintain this system in the long-term, and the facility closed in May of 2019 after operating for a couple of years. However, the group received great praise for what was widely considered to be a bold experiment in urban agriculture, and proved that when executed properly, a completely closed-loop symbiotic system could be possible.
The AgriFacture Solution
At AgriFacture, we believe that urban farms must start with highly sustainable practices, and then work towards achieving zero-waste. With this mindset, humanity already possesses more than enough of the technology and resources we need to feed the future.
The key towards successfully developing and implementing a closed-loop, zero-waste system is to plan for the long-term. There is no quick fix to solve the problem of how to feed the world in the future in an environmentally-friendly way – it will require a complete shift in how we produce and distribute our food.
AgriFacture was created to solve this problem. Unlike other commercial urban farms in the market today, AgriFacture has created a closed-loop agricultural system that is meant to last long-term. AgriFacture utilizes robotics and automation to control the entire growing and harvesting process in a way that eliminates environmental damage, and achieves a high level of food production that is as efficient and sustainable as possible.
- Hyper-Hydration (Water) – Our processes use only 4.67% of water of traditional soil-based crop production and we recover 94% of that 4.67% for reuse in the next grow cycle; therefore providing a 99.72% efficiency in water conservation.
- Soil Destruction – In traditional farming methods, soil is tilled twice and chemically treated up to 15 times per crop, which is grown four times a year. At AgriFacture, we produce 16 crops per year, without soil.
- Chemical Pollution – Soil based farminguses anunconstrained aerosol or irrigation of insecticide, pesticide, fungicide, and soil treatments. We eliminate chemical pollution because we don’t use them. Rather than chemical-based fertilizer, we rely on natural basic elements like phosphorous and potassium to provide our produce with enrichment.
- CO2 Emissions – As a carbon sequestration producer, we are able to be a seller/provider of cap and trade permits. We don’t consume petroleum products in our production.
AgriFacture systems reduce the risk of crop loss significantly, ascertains a low carbon footprint, and requires only fractional rare earth resources.
In addition to other innovations, AgriFacture is unique in that it strives for zero waste. We reuse and repurpose our waste in sustainable ways. After the harvest, there are 3 options for leftover waste material:
- Sterilize the waste product, bag it, and sell it as top soil.
- Reuse the waste in the next batch of growth medium.
- Sterilize, dry, pelletize and use as fuel in a biomass burner to provide the necessary energy for heating the colonization and germination rooms in our facility.
Everything we do is earth-friendly – even our waste is clean. All waste products are biodegradable, and there are no synthetics in any of the growth medium processes.
At AgriFacture, we have set the foundations for sustainable urban agriculture, and are working to make zero-waste farming a commonality. We believe in a future in which everyone has access to high-quality fresh produce, and humanity can live symbiotically with nature by using processes that are completely zero-waste.
AgriFacture is a family-owned business that has spent the last decade developing cutting-edge methodologies to change the entire dynamics of agriculture. AgriFacture’s model of controlled environmental agriculture allows consumers to enjoy local, fresh, pesticide-free, nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, mushrooms and herbs year-round, regardless of where they live.
AgriFacture currently utilizes a 10,000-square-foot research and development facility in Flat Rock, NC and plans to build an even larger 40,000-square-foot indoor farm. Unlike other commercial vertical farms on the market today, AgriFacture changes the dynamic by utilizing robotics and automation to control the entire process – from seed to fork.