Research news

The LIFE IP RESTART project to boost the Slovenian circular economy

Photo by Camila Jacques

Publish Date: 04.04.2022

Category: Interdisciplinary research, Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure, 11 Sustainable cities and communities, 12 Responsible consumption and production (Indicators)

The Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana participates as a partner in one of 11 integrated environment and climate protection projects under the LIFE programme that were selected by the European Commission based on the 2020 calls. The Slovenian LIFE IP RESTART (LIFE20 IPE_SI_000021) project covers the area of waste management. The project should help boost the rate of recycling non-hazardous construction and demolition waste and their use in the reclamation of degraded land and the preparation of engineered, fertile soils. The project was started in 2022 and will be concluded by the end of 2030.

Key starting points

The LIFE IP ReStart project is one of 11 integrated projects under the LIFE finance programme that were selected by the European Commission to implement the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on waste. A total of 110 million EUR was earmarked for the aforementioned large environmental and climate projects under the LIFE programme in 11 EU Member States, of which the Slovenian project was awarded 10 million EUR. Integrated projects provide funds for combining various EU sources of finance, such as funding from agricultural, structural, regional and research funds, with national sources and private sector investments.

The Slovenian LIFE IP RESTART project is coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning and focuses primarily on areas in which Slovenia has not achieved the EU objectives, i.e. the reduction of waste to ensure the highest possible level of material self-sufficiency and more circularity in the waste recovery sector and subsequently a lower carbon footprint.

The Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana is a project partner involved in an action to prepare fertile engineered soils for revitalize opencast mines. What the opencast mines have in common is the removal of the top, fertile part of the soil in the exercising of mining rights. Soil in nature has physical and geochemical properties and excavation destroys its structure. The term "excavated soil" refers to the fertile or non-fertile part of the soil excavated during construction work that can be used for establishing technogenic soils, improving the production potential of agricultural land and serve as a base for engineered soils. The members of the team from the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana working on the LIFE ReStart project are Assistant Prof. Dr Vesna Zupanc from the Chair for Agrometeorology, Agricultural Land Management, Economics and Rural development and Prof. Dr Helena Grčman and Assistant Prof. Dr Marko Zupan from the Centre for pedology and Environmental Protection, Department for Agronomy.

Reacquiring fertile soil through the project

The total area of agricultural land in Europe and Slovenia is constantly decreasing, causing the loss of a potential for food production and self-sufficiency capacity. In addition to limiting soil sealing, one of the main objectives of the EU Soil Strategy for 2030 involves recultivating degraded sites, which requires appropriate materials. The availability of fertile soils with suitable properties is often one of the main limitations for appropriate recultivation. Whilst less fertile soil or even inert construction or industry residuals may be used to recultivate the lower layers, the top layers (at least 50 cm) require using engineered soils with appropriate physical, biological and chemical properties. These properties depend on the purpose of the final use of sites. Apart from making sure that the engineered soils have appropriate physical and chemical properties, it is also necessary that they do not contain excessive concentrations of potentially hazardous substances when it comes to agricultural use.

The aim and objective of the action led by the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana as part of the ReStart project is to develop technologies for producing fertile soils from inorganic and organic waste resulting from construction work or opencast mines and other industrial processes. The main categories of waste where the Slovenian recycling rate is lower than the EU rate are sewage sludge and non-hazardous construction and demolition waste. The Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana is studying how to improve non-fertile soils with various additives of secondary origin to prepare fertile soil mixtures that enable a safe space greening or even food production. It is important to include also organic additives, such as composts from municipal waste and appropriately recovered sludges from sewage treatment plants, both in terms of their nutritional value and from the point of view of ensuring sustainable organic matter and carbon management. In addition to the quality of the additives and their dosage, the way they are mixed with the soil presents a challenge to ensure that the natural structure of the excavated soils is maintained or improved. Research to date in this area is scarce.

The expected results of the project also include the revitalisation of sites in Slovenia degraded by opencast mining or exploitation of minerals amounting to a total of 3,230 ha. By implementing the set project activities, approximately 8,000 m2 of urban sites will be successfully revitalised, and approximately 323 ha of open space sites will be recultivated. Another important result of the project is an increase in the number of green jobs related to the circular economy. We estimate that the project will create approximately 250 green jobs, which constitutes an important advancement as the growth rate of green jobs has come to a halt in recent years.

The European Commission estimates that the measures implemented by the Member States under the selected projects will help achieve the key objectives of the European Green Deal as part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

projekt Restart lamnolom Andraž pred       projekt Restart lamnolom Andraž po

Pictures: The Andraž nad Polzelo quarry before (left) and after (right) the planned remediation using designated excavated soils as products of the LIFE ReStart project (graphic material source: Nerinvest d.o.o., 2021)


Authors of research news: Prof. Dr Helena Grčman, Assistant Prof. Dr Vesna Zupanc, Tina Drolc

projekt Restart logo 1projekt Restart logo 2

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