Perspectives on organic waste recovery relative to composting and anaerobic digestion

Generally speaking, organic waste renders its self suitable for recovery purposes owing to the nutrient elements it contains and the energy stored in the biochemical bonds of its constituent organic compounds. Both composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) have been used since a long time ago in reclaiming organic material.

It seems that the first modern composting process was developed in 1920s in India by Sir Howard who named his system the “Indore process” (Howard, 1940) though, as quoted by Finstein and Morris (1975), Boussingault (1845) had described composting processes of some organisation as well. 1 892 there was adissertation in Wroclaw, Polen,where composting was mentioned as a method to treat organic waste for recycling in agriculture. Nonetheless, the delineation of the underlying principles/mechanisms of the process did not begin until 1950s coinciding with an intense interest in municipal solid waste (MSW) composting. Sewage sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants (SWWTP) composting appeared in 1970s (Miller, 1991). Overall, nowadays appropriately engineered composting systems are used to treat yard waste, SWWTP, the organic fraction of MSW (OFMSW), and agricultural waste including manures and carcasses from the beef and dairy, poultry and swine industries, and crop residues (Kashmanian and Rynk, 1995). It is also employed in food processing waste treatment covering industrial activities such as fermentation, canning and freezing, dairy products, meat, poultry and fish processing etc. (de Bertoldi,1995).

Nonetheless, biological waste treatment in Europe has a stake of about 10% in the overall waste treatment domain (Mata-Alvarez, 1996). To a certain extent, the availability of cheap alternatives such as landfilling and incineration in conjunction with lax environmental regulation has been responsible for this situation. However, things are progressively changing (see “European Union Perspective” section of this report) and the demand for composting and AD projects in EU is growing.

This essay presents a brief overview of the EU regulations pertinent to organic waste recovery and thus AD and composting. It discusses principal technical aspects of those two processes, and attempts a comparison between them. It shortly addresses organic waste separation methods, and finally casts a quick look at the status of MSW composting activities in the Federal Republic of Germany.

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