Drywall makes good composting material

New research shows that used drywall can help bring dead soils back to life because it is rich in nutrients. The findings could prevent drywall from ending up in unused in landfills.

Together with the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence, researchers from the University of Alberta mixed ground and coarse unpainted drywall with cattle manure and sewage sludge, then composted it. When applied to different soils, the team found that drywall compost was as effective as other typical composts—and even resulted in a higher plant yield. The researchers think this may be due to increased soil nitrogen.

“Often what you have with large-scale and industry-oriented reclamation projects is a soil material that’s very poor. It’s hard, it’s not very porous, it doesn’t have nutrients and it lacks organic matter, so it’s really hard for plants to grow in it,” said M. Anne Naeth, a researcher with the Department of Renewable Resources.

High in nutrients and easily decomposable, unpainted waste drywall is also low in environmental risk because it doesn’t contain high levels of metals oftentimes found in biosolids (sewage) compost.

But the most significant takeaway from the research, according to Naeth, is the importance of repurposing materials that would normally be thrown out.

“What excites me about any of this kind of work is just being able to take material that would normally be dumped into the landfills, and rather than taking up bigger land to make a bigger landfill, we can use some of that material to go back into the land,” she said.


Photo credit: University of Alberta

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