Sources of Cd, Cu and Zn in biowaste

A.H.M. Veeken, H.V.M. Hamelers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


Biowaste, the separately collected organic fraction of municipal solid waste, can be reused for soil conditioning after composting. In this way, environmentally harmful waste management strategies, such as landfilling or incineration, can be reduced. However, frequent application of composts to soil systems may lead to the accumulation of heavy metals in soils, and therefore legal criteria were laid down in a decree to guarantee the safe use of composts. The heavy metal content of biowaste-composts frequently exceeds the legal standards, and thus raises a conflict between two governmental policies: the recycling of solid waste on the one hand, and the protection of natural ecosystems and public health on the other hand. In this study, the heavy metal content (Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn) of biowaste was compared with the natural background content of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in the different constituents of biowaste. For this, the physical entities of biowaste were physically fractionated by wet-sieving and subsequent water-elutriation. In this way, organic and inorganic fractions of different particle sizes were obtained and the content of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn and the organic matter content of the different fractions were determined. On the basis of particle size, density and visual appearance, the particle-size fractions were assigned to various indoor and outdoor origins of the biowaste. It was found that a large amount of biowaste was not organic, but over 50 as made up of soil minerals due to the collection of biowaste constituents from gardens. The heavy metal content of the various fractions in biowaste was compared with the natural background contents of heavy metals in the constituents of biowaste, i.e. food products, plant material, soil organic matter and soil minerals, by collecting literature data. The heavy metal content in the fractionated physical entities of biowaste corresponded with the natural background concentration of its constituents and indicated that biowaste was not contaminated by other sources. However, the natural background content of biowaste constituents will result in heavy metal contents for biowaste-compost that will exceed the legal standards. It is advised that the legal standards for composts should be critically re-examined. The protection of soil systems could be better guaranteed if the input of heavy metals was evaluated for all inputs of fertilisers and soil conditioners, i.e. animal manures, various types of compost and artificial fertilisers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-89
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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