CSR Circular Economy: New market for manure strengthens sustainability of fur value chain

In partnership with four Finnish fur farmers and one business expert, start-up company BiHii has launched a composting business selling ready-to-go urban planting palettes sourced from fur animal waste, and putting the principles of circular economy into practice.

“As a nutrient-rich growth medium, manure from fur animals is a one-stop shop,” says Founding CEO Mirja Mustonen. “It contains all the necessary growing nutrients and in an organic form.”

Ideal for urbanite balcony plant boxes

The plant box substrates are ideal for urbanite customers wanting to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, kale or other leafy herbs on their city balconies or terraces. Other customers are spreading the compost on lawns or using it for organic farming. Some of the biggest user benefits for the busy urbanites are that the seeds can be sown directly into the box and they only need watering every 4–5 days. They can even be purchased dry and stored before activating the soil by watering.

But this didn’t happen overnight

The Bihii product line is the culmination of a four-year study of manure emissions and nutrient recycling, in partnership with the Finnish Natural Resources Institute and the City of Kalajoki North East Finland.

The smell of economic success wasn’t to be confused with the smell of farm waste.

“Since the final products are for growing food, sometimes even indoors, potential customers naturally worried that there might be some smell,” Mustonen explains. That meant that a big part of the research involved finding innovative ways to make a high-quality final product that was odourless. The team also put a lot of time into figuring out how to hygienize the soil substrate for growing food plants.

Enter the secret ingredient

The solution came with the addition of biochar, or biocarbon, to the compost during the 9 to 12-month production process to make it odourless. Biochar, in addition to activating the soil and enhancing microbial activity for the benefit of plants, also plays the important role of binding greenhouse gases.

Biocarbon as growth medium doesn’t only belong on balconies, it’s also excellent for park- and traffic- lawns, as it binds storm water and traffic emissions while increasing the durability of the soil.

“This is a new way thinking, says Mustonen, “and seen as bringing innovative expertise to the field of manure processing.”

Combating climate change and water pollution

Animal manure has for centuries been used as fertilizer for farming, improving the soil structure so that it holds more nutrients and water. But with fur animal waste the environmental story goes one step further. Bihii’s tagline for the growing boxes: You are recycling phosphorus from the Baltic Sea!

This is based on Finnish fur farmers feeding their animals a fish by-product from the Baltic Sea, which is high in organic phosphorus. Currently phosphorus from the extractive industries is the most widely used in agriculture, but Bihii offers a new way to use organic phosphorus.

“That means our urban gardeners are not only sequestering carbon but also recycling much needed phosphorus into the nutrient cycle.”

Turning manure into money

Bihii is currently composting about 1500-2000 tonnes of manure are received by year targeting a future capacity of 8000 tonnes manure. Bihii´s business model is countryside friendly and allows the production of high-quality manure products.

The company’s signature product the GrowthBox is now available on the Finnish market, with more products to follow going into 2020.

Based on initial company projections, Mustonen and her team are aiming at an ambitious target of selling 2 million products annually by 2024. In the future, BiHii´s target is to expand internationally, selling their own products as well as licencing their brand and production models, which may involve working with fur farmers in other countries.

“Converting farm waste into commercial organic fertilizer products is a good story for Finnish fur farmers to tell, and a good example of fur farmers participating in the circular economy,” says Marika Peuhkuri-Grön, Sustainability Manager at Saga Furs.

“The products themselves are a win-win bringing the added value of mining organic phosphorus from the manure as well as binding green-house gas into the soil and reducing fertiliser runoff into waterways.”

Looking ahead

The company’s future plans business includes expanding internationally. This could be through licensing deals in Finland or abroad.

“Our company´s goal is to grow,” says Mustonen, “creating high-quality products while solving the manure problem in the most ecological way possible.”

So, if you’re looking for new ways to eat well and reduce your eco-impact, Bihii’s GrowthBox mini is an instant dinner in the making with soil and seeds included.  Just add water and within 5 to 10 days you’ll be cutting green cress for your salad and sandwiches.