Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 721–732 | Cite as

Compost benefits for agriculture evaluated by life cycle assessment. A review

  • Julia Martínez-Blanco
  • Cristina Lazcano
  • Thomas H. Christensen
  • Pere Muñoz
  • Joan Rieradevall
  • Jacob Møller
  • Assumpció Antón
  • Alessio Boldrin
Review Article


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.


Sustainable agriculture Environmental impact Organic fertilizer Biowaste Soil organic matter C sequestration Disease suppression Soil quality 



The authors would like to thank the Spanish Ministerio de Educación for the research scholarship (AP2008-02954) awarded to Julia Martínez Blanco and the financial support by an “Ángeles Alvariño” fellowship from Xunta de Galicia to Cristina Lazcano.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Martínez-Blanco
    • 1
  • Cristina Lazcano
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas H. Christensen
    • 4
  • Pere Muñoz
    • 5
  • Joan Rieradevall
    • 1
    • 6
  • Jacob Møller
    • 4
  • Assumpció Antón
    • 5
    • 7
  • Alessio Boldrin
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA)Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyola del VallèsSpain
  2. 2.Centro Tecnológico del Mar-Fundación CETMARVigoSpain
  3. 3.Department of Land, Air and Water ResourcesUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA
  4. 4.Department of Environmental EngineeringTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark
  5. 5.Institute of Agri-food Research and Technology (IRTA)CabrilsSpain
  6. 6.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyola del VallèsSpain
  7. 7.Departament d’Enginyeria QuímicaUniversitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)TarragonaSpain

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