As compost use in agriculture increases, there is an urgent need to evaluate the specific environmental benefits and impacts as compared with other types of fertilizers and soil amendments. While the environmental impacts associated with compost production have been successfully assessed in previous studies, the assessment of the benefits of compost on plant and soil has been only partially included in few published works. In the present study, we reviewed the recent progresses made in the quantification of the positive effects associated to biowaste compost use on land by using life cycle assessment (LCA). A total of nine environmental benefits were identified in an extensive literature review and quantitative figures for each benefit were drawn and classified into short-, mid-, and long-term. The major findings are the following: (1) for nutrient supply and carbon sequestration, the review showed that both quantification and impact assessment could be performed, meaning that these two benefits should be regularly included in LCA studies. (2) For pest and disease suppression, soil workability, biodiversity, crop nutritional quality, and crop yield, although the benefits were proved, quantitative figures could not be provided, either because of lack of data or because the benefits were highly variable and dependent on specific local conditions. (3) The benefits on soil erosion and soil moisture could be quantitatively addressed, but suitable impact assessment methodologies were not available. (4) Weed suppression was not proved. Different research efforts are required for a full assessment of the benefits, apart from nutrient supply and carbon sequestration; additional impact categories—dealing with phosphorus resources, biodiversity, soil losses, and water depletion—may be needed for a comprehensive assessment of compost application. Several of the natural mechanisms identified and the LCA procedures discussed in the paper could be extensible to other organic fertilizers and compost from other feedstocks.
Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2013, Vol 33, Issue 4, p. 721-732