Discarded mattresses that currently end up in landfill could be used to grow food for refugees in desert environments around the world.

A team of experts from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food and Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, have collaborated with a group of Syrian refugees – many of whom are experienced farmers – to grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and herbs using waste materials in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Aid workers discard thousands of used foam mattresses in camps around the world – but the scientists, who have been developing foam ‘soils’ in their labs in Sheffield, recognised that they could be used as a growing medium for crops.

The technique, known as hydroponics, has revolutionary potential to help feed millions in refugee camps across the world. Aid workers discard thousands of used foam mattresses in camps around the world – but academics from Sheffield, recognised that they could be used as a growing medium for crops.

They have shown the refugees how to fill waste containers from around the camp with mattress foam and a carefully balanced nutrient solution, and plant seedlings straight into the foam, which supports the plant’s roots as it grows. The method of growing uses 70-80 per cent less water than planting straight into the soil, and eliminates the need for pesticides.

With funding running out for the project, which has so far trained nearly 1,000 refugees to grow food with foam, the University has launched a public appeal to make the initiative sustainable and roll it out to other camps.

This appeal will secure the project’s immediate future and allow it to become self sustaining. Using a “train the trainers” model, refugees will be able to share knowledge and skills with each other and spread the benefits of this novel approach to surrounding camps.

Dr Moaed Al Meselmani, Desert Garden Project Manager at the University of Sheffield, said: “I’m a researcher and a Syrian refugee myself – and now I’m helping others like me to learn new skills and feed their families with fresh herbs and vegetables in the desert.

“When you’re forced to flee your home, it’s the simple things you miss – like a cup of fresh mint tea or showing your children how to plant a seed. This project connects people with home and gives them hope for the future.”

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