Could a New Zealand company solve the world’s carbon crisis?
31 August 2011
EcoCover New Zealand Ltd: Could a small New Zealand company solve the world’s carbon crisis?
According to an article in Australia’s foremost business newspaper, The Australian Financial Review, the world will need to produce twice as much food by 2050 as it does now, using the same amount of land and water (or probably less). It’s a disturbing proposition, but a large part of the solution could be found in a small, unassuming factory west of Auckland.
To meet growing demand for food, most of today’s farming and agricultural practices lean towards clearing and irrigating more land and increasing use of fertilizers. These methods are unsustainable, and if they continue the world will experience major food shortage in the coming years. All is not gloom and doom, however. The Australian Financial Review article suggests that the single key to meeting our increased demand for food lies in better soil management. Well-managed soils produce better harvests even during poor seasons, and can recover more quickly from drought or flood.
These sentiments are echoed by Horticultural Consultant, Reg Lewthwaite, who is running a five-year study in New Zealand to determine better ways of managing our soil. Lewthwaite says that many of today’s farming practices, including soil cultivation, are causing soil carbon to decline. The importance of carbon in soil is paramount - soil is earth’s major carbon reservoir. Every one per cent increase in organic matter in soil sequesters approximately 88 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare from the atmosphere. According to Lewthwaite, if all arable land across the globe could increase organic matter in soil by one per cent, it would solve the carbon crisis.
Which is where EcoCover New Zealand—the small West Auckland company—enters the picture. EcoCover is a certified organic, bio-degradable mulch-mat made from recycled paper. Massey University studies have proven the product’s superiority to other mulches in improving plant health, increasing crop quality and quantity, greater water retention and of course fewer weeds. It seems, though, that these benefits are about to be eclipsed by a side-effect of the product - one which is crucial to earth’s survival.
EcoCover mulch mat is part of Reg Lewthwaite’s pilot trial at Unitec’s Pacific Centre for Sustainable Communities, to quantify the role of mulch in generating soil carbon. The study, commenced during 2008, will determine how EcoCover compares to nine other ground cover products in building soil carbon, thus sequestering CO2 and mitigating climate change. EcoCover New Zealand Ltd believes this research project to be the first of its kind in the world, certainly the most comprehensive, and suggests it will be a key reference document in the newly emerging science of the importance soil can play in remedial climate change.
To date, results from the study are extremely encouraging. EcoCover has significantly outperformed every other form of mulch in sequestering carbon in soil. In fact the results are so good EcoCover managing director, Murray Cruickshank, says the trial may only run for another year, with the results extrapolated. “Potentially, this is extremely exciting news for our company,” says Cruickshank. “Looking at the results of the study, it’s exhilarating to think that if the entire agricultural world used EcoCover as a mulch mat, we would sequester enough carbon in our soil to have a dramatic effect on the world’s carbon crisis.” It’s a bold statement, but one which fits well with the company’s total commitment to a healthy planet.
The mulch mat is made primarily from recycled paper diverted from landfill or offshore recycling facilities. At the end of its life, the mulch mat can be ploughed directly into soil to improve organic matter. EcoCover gained another notch in its carbon belt recently when (three years into a five year study) the product was shown to increase tree growth rates faster than any other form of mulch, and more than twice the growth of tree planting with no mulch at all.
Managing Director Murray Cruickshank has realized the potential of the product and expanded the operation internationally, with manufacturing plants sold to Australia, the United Kingdom, California and the Czech Republic. The company’s environmental commitment was recognised officially last year when it won the prestigious Sustainable Design and Innovation Award for 2010 at the National Sustainable Business Awards.
Cruickshank’s passion for his product and its potential to mitigate climate change is obvious. “The world has reached the point where it is crucial we make the right decisions to ensure our future. That includes making the right choices about the products we buy and use. We’re confident EcoCover ticks all the right boxes, and if the whole world embraced our product we’d be delighted - for the earth’s sake.”