Horticultural Uses of Municipal Solid Waste Composts

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  • 1 Department of Soil Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55113.
  • 2 Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55113.

Composting of municipal solid waste (MSW) has received renewed attention as a result of increasing waste disposal costs and the environmental concerns associated with using landfills. Sixteen MSW composting facilities are currently operating in the United States, with many more in the advanced stages of planning. A targeted end use of the compost is for horticultural crop production. At the present time, quality standards for MSW composts are lacking and need to be established. Elevated heavy metal concentrations in MSW compost have been reported; however, through proper sorting and recycling prior to composting, contamination by heavy metals can be reduced. Guidelines for safe metal concentrations and fecal pathogens in compost, based on sewage sludge research, are presented. The compost has been shown to be useful in horticultural crop production by improving soil physical properties, such as lowering bulk density and increasing water-holding capacity. The compost can supply essential nutrients to a limited extent; however, supplemental fertilizer, particularly N, is usually required. The compost has been used successfully as a sphagnum peat substitute for container media and as a seedbed for turf production. High soluble salts and B, often leading to phytotoxicity, are problems associated with the use of MSW compost. The primary limiting factor for the general use of MSW compost in horticultural crop production at present is the lack of consistent, high-quality compost.

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