Life cycle assessment of passively aerated composting in gas-permeable bags of olive mill waste

Abstract

Purpose

In Italy, composting olive mill waste has become a common practice, since it mitigates the environmental problems associated with spreading the waste on land. Compost can be used to prepare growth media for plant nursery cultivation as a substitute for peat, a non-renewable resource whose extraction has long raised environmental concerns. Here, we investigate two common composting procedures—open windrow and static-pile in gas-permeable bags—and compare them to evaluate their environmental impact.

Methods

We perform a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) in accordance with ISO 14040 and 14044. The LCA considers carbon storage in the soil after 100 years, fugitive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the impacts avoided by substituting for peat. We use cumulative energy demand, global warming potential (GWP), acidification potential, and eutrophication potential indicators in a contribution analysis and explore how the re-use of olive pits for energy production and reduction of commercial fertilizers improves the environmental balance. We also present a scenario analysis that indicates how parameter fluctuations affect the results.

Results and discussion

Our study shows that peat’s impacts can be significantly reduced from 1162.3 to 96.3 kg CO2-eq/Mg for open windrow compost or 43.1 kg CO2-eq/Mg for static-pile compost in gas-permeable bags. For static-pile composting, the lack of volatile organic compound and ammonia emissions and the detection of oxygen concentrations above 12% vol. suggest fully aerobic conditions. Fugitive greenhouse gas emissions were the most important contributions to the GWP. In the contribution analysis for static-pile composting, the avoidance of compost spreading and the carbon storage effect (due to compost usage) contributed 54% of the overall impacts to GWP and between 21 and 45% to the other indicators.

Conclusions

This LCA study illustrates how horticulturists can improve their resource management practices by recycling olive mill waste materials. Proper management of composting unit aeration can reduce fugitive GHG emissions.

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Acknowledgements

We are especially grateful to Vitale Stanzione of ISAFOM-CNR, Perugia, Italy, for collaborating in data collection and to PAM srl, Pistoia, Italy, for the collaboration in technical operations.

Funding

This research was carried on within the framework of “SANS-OIL” project, funded by Regione Toscana, Italy (PSR 20072013), and it was partially supported by the DFG RTG 1703 “Resource Efficiency in Interorganizational Networks.

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Correspondence to Francesco Castellani.

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Responsible editor: Shabbir Gheewala

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Castellani, F., Esposito, A., Geldermann, J. et al. Life cycle assessment of passively aerated composting in gas-permeable bags of olive mill waste. Int J Life Cycle Assess 24, 281–296 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1514-0

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Keywords

  • By-product
  • Composting
  • Greenhouse gas
  • LCA
  • Olive mill waste
  • Peat