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Nitrogen from Food Waste Essay

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Updated: Apr 6th, 2020


Nitrogen is one of the elements that exist naturally in the atmosphere. Nitrogen is the most abundant element in the world. It occupies about eighty percent of the air. It can enter the earth through various mechanisms such as plant remains, fixation by microorganisms, and industrial fertilizer. Nitrogen is a significant element because it facilitates the production of nutrients that influence the growth of organisms. Thus, nitrogen determines food production in the world.

Conversely, deficiency of nitrogen automatically leads to a decline in food production (Mosier and Freney 78-80). Organic nitrogen refers to nitrogen composite that is derived from organisms. Of all the crucial nutrients, plants need high quantities of nitrogen to thrive. Nitrate and ammonia are the most common forms of organic nitrogen consumed by plants. This essay discusses the advantages and disadvantages of nitrogen released by decomposing food waste.

Advantages of Organic Nitrogen

Even though there is a high concentration of nitrogen in the atmosphere, it cannot reach plants directly. Nitrogen can be infused into the soil chemically or biologically. Therefore, various mechanisms infuse nitrogen into the soil in a form such as ammonia that plants can consume.

Manure has a considerable quantity of organic nitrogen (Mosier and Freney, 23-24). Approximately half of the organic nitrogen from decomposing food remains is transformed into forms that can be consumed by plants. Decomposing food remains generate organic nitrogen, which serves as cheap fertilizer for food production. For example, each ton of organic compost is equivalent to approximately twenty pounds of processed fertilizer (Mosier and Freney 112-113).

Organic nitrogen is a constituent of amino acids. Amino acids facilitate the production of proteins. Also, “nitrogen is a constituent of nucleic acids that develop the DNA of all organisms and holds the genetic code” (Rauschkolb and Hornsby 91-92). Moreover, urea consists of organic nitrogen and other chemicals.

Urea is a spin-off of protein digestion. Availability of urea in the soil facilitates the growth of plants because it contains nitrogen nutrients. Ammonium is a form of nitrogen consumed by plants. “During the processes of decomposition, certain types of bacteria transform the nitrogen in proteins to ammonia” (Gerwing 123).

Nitrogen is an element of chlorophyll that facilitates the process of photosynthesis. Thus, a plant that gets adequate nitrogen will characteristically exhibit rapid growth. Chlorophyll is also the material that creates the green pigment in plants. Therefore, plants that get enough nitrogen have dark green leaves.

Generally, the amount of nitrogen in plant tissue is between one and six percent (Gerwing 67). It is important to note that there is no clear distinction between nitrogen that goes into plants from industrial fertilizers and that from natural sources (Kirchmann 87).

Disadvantages of Nitrogen

Although nitrogen is important to the survival of plants and microorganisms, it can have negative effects if it is not properly utilized. “Nitrogen may be eliminated from the earth by plants, leaching, volatilization, and erosion” (Logsdon and Budner 167). Elimination of nitrogen through plant absorption is beneficial and is highly recommended. Nonetheless, the leaching of nitrate causes serious environmental degradation.

Nitrate leaching leads to loss of nutrients from the soil. Hence, it retards the growth of plants. Leaching can cause serious earth and surface water contamination challenges. Therefore, the elimination of nitrates from the soil through leaching is detrimental from all perspectives. The factors that facilitate nitrate leaching include a high amount of rainfall, over-irrigation, and roughly textured soils (Postgate 39-41).

The high concentration of chemicals in manure can change the pH of soil. More often than not, manure with high amounts of nitrogen drawn from ammonium sources can increase soil acidity if used continuously. On the contrary, other types of fertilizers normally have a low concentration of ammonia but contain high amounts of nitrate.

Moreover, these manures usually contain calcium nitrate. Therefore, high concentrations of various forms of nitrogen in manure can lead to acidification of soil, which can affect the growth of plants. “The actual acidifying effect of manure is influenced, to some degree, by soil conditions that affect the transformation of the ammonium to nitrate and by how much ammonium the plant assimilates before this transformation occurs” (Kirchmann 34-35).


This essay has revealed that nitrogen derived from decomposing food waste has various advantages and shortcomings. Nitrogen is essential for crop production because it contains many nutrients that enhance the growth of plants. However, nitrogen can be eliminated easily from the earth. Thus, farmers need to prevent the loss of nitrogen from the soil through appropriate strategies. The benefits of nitrogen can be maximized, and its disadvantages can be mitigated if its characteristics and transformations are properly understood.

For example, farmers should use manure-containing nitrogen during planting season on soil susceptible to water erosion and leaching. Farmers can facilitate crop production by using manure with the correct amount of nitrogen. Therefore, manure should be prepared through correct procedures. Soil acidity should be tested regularly to find out the concentration of nitrogen. Loss of nitrogen can be mitigated through soil conservation techniques such as mulching that prevent soil erosion.

Works Cited

Gerwing, James. Using manure as a nitrogen fertilizer. New York: Wiley, 2007. Print.

Kirchmann, Holger. Losses, Plant Uptake and Utilisation of Manure Nitrogen During a Production Cycle. London: Sage, 2005. Print.

Logsdon, Gene and Brooke Budner. Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. New York: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010. Print.

Mosier, Arvin and John Freney. Agriculture and the Nitrogen Cycle: Assessing the Impacts of Fertilizer Use on Food Production and the Environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Postgate, John. Nitrogen Fixation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.

Rauschkolb, Roy and Arthur Hornsby. Nitrogen Management in Irrigated Agriculture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

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