Environmental impact of two aerobic composting technologies using life cycle assessment

  • Erasmo Cadena
  • Joan Colón
  • Adriana ArtolaEmail author
  • Antoni Sánchez
  • Xavier Font


Background, aim, and scope

Composting is a viable technology to treat the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) because it stabilizes biodegradable organic matter and contributes to reduce the quantity of municipal solid waste to be incinerated or land-filled. However, the composting process generates environmental impacts such as atmospheric emissions and resources consumption that should be studied. This work presents the inventory data and the study of the environmental impact of two real composting plants using different technologies, tunnels (CT) and confined windrows (CCW).

Materials and methods

Inventory data of the two composting facilities studied were obtained from field measurements and from plant managers. Next, life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology was used to calculate the environmental impacts. Composting facilities were located in Catalonia (Spain) and were evaluated during 2007. Both studied plants treat source separated organic fraction of municipal solid waste. In both installations the analysis includes environmental impact from fuel, water, and electricity consumption and the main gaseous emissions from the composting process itself (ammonia and volatile organic compounds).

Results and discussion

Inventory analysis permitted the calculation of different ratios corresponding to resources consumption or plant performance and process yield with respect to 1 t of OFMSW. Among them, it can be highlighted that in both studied plants total energy consumption necessary to treat the OFMSW and transform it into compost was between 130 and 160 kWh/t OFMSW. Environmental impact was evaluated in terms of global warming potential (around 60 kg CO2/t OFMSW for both plants), acidification potential (7.13 and 3.69 kg SO2 eq/t OFMSW for CT and CCW plant respectively), photochemical oxidation potential (0.1 and 3.11 kg C2H4 eq/t OFMSW for CT and CCW plant, respectively), eutrophication (1.51 and 0.77 kg \( {\text{PO}}_4^{3-} \)/t OFMSW for CT and CCW plant, respectively), human toxicity (around 15 kg 1,4-DB eq/t OFMSW for both plants) and ozone layer depletion (1.66 × 10−5 and 2.77 × 10−5 kg CFC−11 eq/t OFMSW for CT and CCW plant, respectively).


This work reflects that the life cycle perspective is a useful tool to analyze a composting process since it permits the comparison among different technologies. According to our results total energy consumption required for composting OFMSW is dependent on the technology used (ranging from 130 to 160 kWh/t OFMSW) as water consumption is (from 0.02 to 0.33 m3 of water/t OFMSW). Gaseous emissions from the composting process represent the main contribution to eutrophication, acidification and photochemical oxidation potentials, while those contributions related to energy consumption are the principal responsible for global warming.

Recommendations and perspectives

This work provides the evaluation of environmental impacts of two composting technologies that can be useful for its application to composting plants with similar characteristics. In addition, this study can also be part of future works to compare composting with other OFMSW treatments from a LCA perspective. Likewise, the results can be used for the elaboration of a greenhouse gasses emissions inventory in Catalonia and Spain.


Composting Environmental impact Forced-aerated windrow Greenhouse gasses emissions (GHG) In-vessel composting Life cycle assessment (LCA) Organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) Turned windrow 



This research was financially supported by the Agència de Residus de Catalunya and the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (Project CTM2006-00315/TECNO). Erasmo Cadena and Joan Colón wish to thank the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas (México) and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain) respectively for the award of a predoctoral fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erasmo Cadena
    • 1
  • Joan Colón
    • 1
  • Adriana Artola
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antoni Sánchez
    • 1
  • Xavier Font
    • 1
  1. 1.Composting Research Group, Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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