Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 100, Issue 8, pp 3433–3449 | Cite as

Application of compost for effective bioremediation of organic contaminants and pollutants in soil



Soils contaminated with hazardous chemicals worldwide are awaiting remediation activities; bioremediation is often considered as a cost-effective remediation approach. Potential bioapproaches are biostimulation, e.g. by addition of nutrients, fertiliser and organic substrates, and bioaugmentation by addition of compound-degrading microbes or of organic amendments containing active microorganisms, e.g. activated sludge or compost. In most contaminated soils, the abundance of the intrinsic metabolic potential is too low to be improved by biostimulation alone, since the physical and chemical conditions in these soils are not conducive to biodegradation. In the last few decades, compost or farmyard manure addition as well as composting with various organic supplements have been found to be very efficient for soil bioremediation. In the present minireview, we provide an overview of the composting and compost addition approaches as ‘stimulants’ of natural attenuation. Laboratory degradation experiments are often biased either by not considering the abiotic factors or by focusing solely on the elimination of the chemicals without taking the biotic factors and processes into account. Therefore, we first systemise the concepts of composting and compost addition, then summarise the relevant physical, chemical and biotic factors and mechanisms for improved contaminant degradation triggered by compost addition. These factors and mechanisms are of particular interest, since they are more relevant and easier to determine than the composition of the degrading community, which is also addressed in this review. Due to the mostly empirical knowledge and the nonstandardised biowaste or compost materials, the field use of these approaches is highly challenging, but also promising. Based on the huge metabolic diversity of microorganisms developing during the composting processes, a highly complex metabolic diversity is established as a ‘metabolic memory’ within developing and mature compost materials. Compost addition can thus be considered as a ‘super-bioaugmentation’ with a complex natural mixture of degrading microorganisms, combined with a ‘biostimulation’ by nutrient containing readily to hardly degradable organic substrates. It also improves the abiotic soil conditions, thus enhancing microbial activity in general. Finally, this minireview also aims at guiding potential users towards full exploitation of the potentials of this approach.


Soil amendment Composting Biodegradation Organic contaminants Microbial communities Bioremediation processes Fate of pollutants Residual concentrations Metabolic cooperation Functional redundancy 



This work was performed in the framework of the European Union project “Molecular Approaches and MetaGenomic Investigations for optimizing Clean-up of PAH contaminated sites (MAGICPAH)” within the seventh framework programme (FP7-KBBE, #245226) and by general funding of the Helmholtz-Association.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Biotechnology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZLeipzigGermany

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