Waste solutions

ESR leads the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (CIBR), a collaborative multidisciplinary programme delivering innovative solutions for the sustainable re-use of biowastes in New Zealand.

Putting waste to work: The CIBR is a virtual centre, combining the expertise of 10 New Zealand research institutes, universities and research partners including ESR, Scion, Cawthron Institute, Landcare Research, Lincoln University, Lowe Environmental Impact, Northcott Research Consultants Ltd., and Kukupa research.

We specialise in investigating treatment options for wastewater, effluent, greywater, biosolids and sewage sludges with a focus on land application and re-use. We are unique in our ability to combine local knowledge, cutting-edge international knowledge and the science expertise of our four specialised research groups (Social and Cultural Research, Soil Science, Microbiology and Ecotoxicology). We work in partnership with iwi, local government and key community stakeholders to build innovative and ‘fit for purpose’ solutions for the sustainable re-use of biowastes. Our community engagement approach ensures the solutions are culturally appropriate, have enduring community support and a sound scientific base.

We offer expertise in the following areas:

Soil science

The soil science group investigates the potential effect of re-use on soil health in order to develop sustainable management practices for re-use that maintain soil integrity for future generations whilst minimising risk to people. Specific examples include: 

  • Routine monitoring of soil health indicators such as enzyme activity, biomass respiration, pH. 
  • Investigations into organic and heavy metal contaminants that may end up in soil from biowaste disposal. 
  • Rehabilitating and restoring degraded and contaminated soils 
  • Using molecular ecology techniques to monitor changes in soil microbial communities. 
  • Assessing the carbon and nitrogen transformations and storages in soil and tree biomass when biosolids are applied to forested land. 
  • Investigating the effects of native plants such as mānuka on nitrogen movement in soil and groundwater.

Social and Cultural Science

Fundamental to our work is the involvement of communities in exploring the social, cultural and economic factors associated with biowaste re-use options. The social and cultural group conducts participatory action research with stakeholders to encourage shared learning, and ensure that the solutions developed are appropriate for real communities and real conditions.

Ecotoxicology

Numerous chemicals are used in daily household, industrial, and agricultural activities. These chemicals could enter the environment through the land application of biowaste. The ecotoxicology group’s challenge is to characterise and manage the potential risks of these chemicals to our ecosystem while maximising the benefits of biowaste re-use. Examples include: 

  • Developing chemical and biological assays for risk assessment 
  • Assessing the toxicity of chemicals contained in biowaste using Eisenia Andrei earthworm bioassays. 
  • Identifying pathways of toxicity using in vitro bioassays focusing on the endocrine system (responsible for hormone production). 
  • Providing data to inform the risk assessment and management of emerging organic contaminants in New Zealand.

Microbiology

The microbiology groups’ focus is on understanding the behaviour of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in soil and wastewater in order to facilitate better removal and improve treatment processes. Their aim is to provide safe practice recommendations for biowaste re-use that minimises risk to people by: 

  • Generating environmental fate, transport and effects data for indicator organisms in soil, biosolids, greywater and wastewater. 
  • Assessments of waste processing technologies for microbial reduction 
  • Investigating the antimicrobial properties of native plants such as mānuka and the associated effect on pathogenic microorganisms that may end up in soil. 
  • Identifying virus removal mechanisms in wastewater and soil

Find out more about the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (external link)  (CIBR)

Listen to Jen Prosser from our biowaste team talking to Radio NZ (external link) about a project trying to identify the compound that gives manuka its antimicrobial properties in order to assess the potential of manuka to reduce the risks associated with recycling biowaste to land.

Key contacts:

Jacqui Horswell, (Programme Leader)
Email Jacqui 

Virginia Baker (Social Scientist)
Email Viginia

Louise Weaver (Microbiology team leader)  
Email Louise