Environmental challenges impeding the composting of biodegradable municipal solid waste: A critical review

Yunmei Wei, Jingyuan Li, Dezhi Shi, Guotao Liu, Youcai Zhao, Takayuki Shimaoka

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

219 Citations (Scopus)


Biodegradable material, primarily composed of food waste, accounts for 40–70 wt% of municipal solid waste (MSW) in developing countries. Therefore, to establish a sustainable waste management system, it is essential to separate and recycle biodegradable organic material from the municipal waste stream. Of all the recycling methods, composting is recommended due to its environmental and economic benefits. However, compared with readily recyclable materials (e.g., paper, metals, etc.), recycling/composting biodegradable MSW presents a great challenge to furthering the promotion of waste recycling. This review provides a systematic analysis of organic waste sorting and recycling/composting practices in several countries: the UK, US, Japan, and China. Compared to the great efforts that have been made in developed countries for the promotion of waste composting, much less has been achieved in developing countries. For example, the MSW composting rate in China decreased from 10% to less than 2% in the past 15 years, and similar trends may exist in other developing countries. Therefore, it is essential to identify the barriers that impede waste composting and predict developing trends. This article emphasizes environmental challenges (i.e., odor, bioaerosols, and heavy metals), focusing on their generation and control strategies, in an effort to identify barriers hindering MSW composting. Successful practices in several European countries suggest that source-separated composting presents many advantages over mechanical-separated composting. This may partially be ascribed to the fact that source separation of organic waste can prevent contact with heavy metal-bearing items, resulting in the production of high-quality compost. Mixed collection MSW normally contains significantly higher concentrations of heavy metals, which could affect the marketing of composting products. Moreover, source separation of organic waste can minimize waste pretreatment operations, leading to lower bioaerosol and malodor generation during composting. Implementing source separation of MSW in more countries would increase the amount of organic waste available for composting. In addition, attention should focus on secondary pollutant production for proper composting management. Finally, setting standards for end product quality control is highly recommended for controlling both marketing and environmental risks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-65
Number of pages15
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Publication statusPublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Economics and Econometrics


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