Can pulverised paper be used as a soil amendment and improve soil health? According to Agricultural Research Service and the U.S. Army, it can.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is helping to arm the U.S. military with a solution to two major environmental problems: the disposal of paper waste and revegetating damaged training grounds.
Under federal regulations, U.S. Army classified papers must be pulverised to a fine consistency, which leaves the material unsuitable for recycling. Secondly, army training areas become barren of vegetation from constant use by heavy equipment and foot soldiers. Soil erosion can occur, making it difficult to reestablish native grasses.
Paper as soil amendment
ARS teamed up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help address these issues. Their research focused on evaluating the use of pulverised or finely ground paper as a soil amendment to improve soil health and the ability to establish desirable native grasses on degraded Army training lands.
ARS worked with the Army to determine the right rates of application and to make sure there were no environmental concerns from the application of paper.
Positive results for vegetation restoration
Earlier trials conducted on research plots, located in Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Benning, Georgia, showed positive results for vegetation restoration where a processed waste paper product material was applied.
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Pulverised paper, which is like a very fine confetti, is a cheap, high-quality organic material that is useful as a soil amendment. - Photo: Ryan Busby, U.S. Army
The recent study on the finely ground paper was conducted at Fort Polk. It demonstrated that adding this type of paper waste to Army training grounds improves soil health, increases growth of native grasses and provides a solution for disposing classified paper waste.
Plant cover 45% higher
Native plant establishment was improved, with plant cover 45% higher on sites with the recommended application rate compared to controls.
There is also an environmental benefit as restoring the plant cover protects the soil from erosion, promotes the accumulation of soil carbon and provides improved wildlife habitat, according to the scientists.
Soil nutrient concentrations and soil pH
Paper application rate was positively correlated with native plant cover, deficient plant and soil nutrient concentrations and soil pH, and negatively correlated with invasive plant cover and biomass and soil bulk density.
The study showed that pulverised paper can be safely applied to degraded training areas to improve establishment of desirable vegetation without any noticeable negative consequences.