Fuchs, Jacques G.; Berner, Alfred; Mayer, Jochen; Schleiss, Konrad and Kupper, Thomas (2008) Effects of compost and digestate on environment and plant production – results of two research projects. Paper at: International Conference ORBIT , Wageningen, The Netherlands, 13th - 15th October 2008.
A yearly amount of 9.3x106t compost and digestate derived from separately collected organic waste is produced in the 25 European Union member states. The improvement of soil properties is a major benefit of compost application. However, little is known about the occurrence of organic pollutants in compost. In order to estimate the potential of Swiss composts and digestates to influence soil fertility and plant health, one hundred products representative for the different composting systems and qualities available on the Swiss market were analyzed in two research projects. In the first study, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), ortho substituted and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, DL PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/F), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides, chlorinated paraffins (CPs), phthalates and nonylphenol (NP) were analyzed. All compound classes were detected except for NP. PFAS, HBCD, TBBPA, some compounds out of PBDEs and pesticides were found in compost and digestate for the first time. Concentrations of most compounds were in the low ppb range. Contents of PAHs were between 600 and 12473 μg/kg dry weight (dw) and contents of HBCD and CPs between 17 and 384 μg/kg dw. Tests with springtails (Folsomia candida) have been shown to be a versatile tool for ecotoxicological assessment. Within these tests, inhibiting and stimulating effects due to compost application were observed. Except for high PAHs contents, no major problem with regard to contamination of compost and digestate was identified.
In the second study, the physical, chemical and biological properties of the composts and digestats, and their influence on soil fertility and plant growth, were characterized. The organic substance and the nutrient content of the composts varied largely between the composts with the feedstock materials as major influencing factors. The respiration rate and enzyme activities exhibited large variations as well, particularly in the youngest composts. These differences decreased when the composts became more mature. Maturity, the degradation stage of the organic matter, depended not only on the age of the compost, but also on the management of the process. The N-mineralization potential of compost added to soil showed that a high proportion of young composts immobilized the nitrogen in the soil. Two compost parameters allowed to predict the risk of nitrogen immobilization in soil: the NO3- and the humic acids contents. The phytotoxicity of the composts varied largely even in mature composts, showing that the storage of the compost plays a decisive role. While the majority of composts protected cucumber plants against Pythium ultimum, only a few composts suppressed Rhizoctonia solani in basil. With respect to disease suppression, the management of the maturation process seems to play a major role. In field experiments, some biologically immature composts immobilized nitrogen in soil and reduced growth of maize. With additional fertilization, however, it was possible to compensate this effect. Digestates and composts increased the pH-value and the biological activity of soil. These effects were observable also one maize season after compost application. In conclusion, the management of the composting process seems to influence the biological quality of the composts and digestats to a higher extent than the feedstock materials or the composting system. More attention should be paid to this biological quality, in order to produce composts with more beneficial effects on crops.
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