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Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Agriculture | Volume :3 Issue:1 | Feb. 28, 2022
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DOI : 10.47310/Hja.2022.v03i01.004       Download PDF       HTML       XML

A Review of Municipal Solid Waste Composting: Benefits and Prospects

Mbachu, A.E*1, Okoli, A.N2, Mbachu, N.A3, Okoli, F.A1 and Ozoh, C.N1

1Department of Applied Microbiology and Brewing, Faculty of Biosciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria

2Department of Crop Science and Horticulture, Faculty of Agriculture, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria

3Department of Human Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi Campus, Nigeria

*Corresponding Author

Mbachu, A.E

Article History

Received: 05.02.2022

Accepted: 16. 02.2022

Published: 28.02.2022

Abstract: With the advent of modern society and with ever-increasing consumption of goods and inadequate refuse disposal, municipal solid waste (MSW) generation per capita has increased globally. This increase in MSW generation and inadequate disposal methods not only results in ecological hazard, but also pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. Thus appropriate MSW management is a current topic of highest importance. Composting is a biological means of converting different organic wastes into products that can be safely used and beneficially employed as bio fertilizer. MSW can be categorized based on the following; biodegradable, moderately degradable and non-biodegradable and/or based on the origin or source. The microbiology of composting involves three phases such as; 1st mesophilic phase, thermophilic phase and 2nd mesophilic phase. Each phase involves the activities of various microorganisms predominantly, bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes. The various methods of composting, relevance of compost as well as factors affecting the quality of compost were also discussed. The opportunities for the future of compost market abound and the most common are in agriculture, landscaping, home gardening, horticulture and even construction industries. Many people globally are now shifting towards organic food in preference to chemically produced products, due to increasing awareness of the effect of chemical fertilizer on human health and the environment. Therefore, it is important to embrace organic farming through the use of organic fertilizer. MSW composting is no doubt an up-and-coming technology with enormous benefits to the environment, economy and the society.

Keywords: Municipal solid wastes, Composting, Organic fertilizer, 1st Mesophilic phase, Thermophilic phase, 2nd Mesophilic phase


Municipal solid wastes (MSW) represent one of the global environmental challenges and a major source of environmental pollution (Mamo et al., 2021). The increase in population per capital income, with the development of modern societies and urbanization has led to an increase in the variety and amount of municipal solid wastes (Khandelwal et al., 2019). The latest World Bank report estimated an average municipal solid waste generation rate per capital at approximately 1.2kg per person per day and that by 2025, this may rise to 1.42kg per person per day, reaching 2.2 billion tonne of waste per year on a global scale (Hoornweg and Bhada-Tata, 2012; Leal Filho et al., 2015).

The disposal and management of municipal solid wastes has been a major challenge especially for developing countries. It is well known that in Europe, the most prevalent form of waste management consists of land filling, 60.57% in 2012 and 57.70% in 2014 (Jodar et al., 2017). In recent years, attention has been shifted from land filling method (-10.31%) to other methods such as incineration (11.78%) and composting (22.43%) (Jodar et al., 2017). However, in Nigeria, waste disposal through open dumping by the roadside, water ways and burning are common practices. These practices, apart from being unpleasant to the sight, are harmful to human health and the environment.

Composting is the transformation of various biodegradable wastes into products that can be used safely and beneficially as bio-fertilizers and soil amendment (Yu et al., 2019). Since compost can be applied as a fertilizer or as a material for production of plant nursery substrates, the production of compost and compost quality has been the subject of great interest to researchers (Jodar et al., 2017). Due to the presence of plant growth-promoting organisms and nutrient rich of compost, the use of compost in agriculture increases agricultural productivity and organic matter content of soil (Luo et al., 2017; Pane et al., 2014). This to a larger extent helps to ensure food security. Apart from the use of compost as organic fertilizer, compost is applicable in bioremediation (Ventorino et al., 2019), plant disease control (Pane et al., 2019), weed control (Coelho et al., 2019), pollution prevention (Uyizeye, 2019), erosion control, landscaping and wetland restoration. The use of compost as organic fertilizer reduces the cost, health and environmental risk associated with chemical fertilizer.

Composting occurs through the activities of mixed microbial community notably bacteria, actinomycetes, molds and yeasts (Ayilara et al., 2020). Of all these microorganisms, bacteria and fungi have been reported as being predominantly present during composting (Galitskaya et al., 2017).Adequate environmental conditions of temperature, moisture and aeration must also be maintained for successful composting operation. For the final product to be useful, it must be rich in humus and contain in optimum amount macro elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium as well as some trace elements.

Although farmers imbibe the use of chemical fertilizers because of its strong and rapid effect on plant growth, the nutritional quality of these plants are less than the organically grown plants (Parihar and Sharma, 2021). Moreover, the chemical content of these chemical fertilizers are toxic in nature and may accumulate in human body (Chandini et al., 2019), leading to health implications. This could be the reason especially in developed countries; people are now choosing organic food as a substitute to chemically synthesized products. Thus, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDGs) of Responsible Consumption and Production to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030, composting is seen as a solution to properly manage waste to promote good health and wellbeing through sustainable practices (Palaniveloo et al., 2020). This paper therefore reviews composting method and its relevance to nature and the environment as well as future prospects of composting.

Categories of Municipal Solid Wastes

Municipal solid waste (MSW) is a pool of various wastes by towns and cities from different types of household activities. All solid wastes generated within a municipality’s territory, regardless of its physical and chemical nature and source of generation is classified as municipal solid waste (Saleh and Koller, 2019). Residential houses, hotels, markets, educational institutions among others are sources of municipal solid waste. These wastes may include but not limited to: food wastes, yard wastes, paper, cardboard, textile rags, leather, lignocellulose materials, waste oils, glass, metals and hazardous wastes.

On the basis of biodegradability, solid wastes can be categorized into biodegradable, moderately degradable and non-biodegradable (Ayilara et al., 2020). Oxygenic and anoxygenic microbes are involved in decomposition of biodegradable wastes as well as slowly degradable wastes. Biodegradable wastes may include among others; yard wastes, food wastes and some agricultural wastes such as cow dungs, poultry droppings, while slowly degradable wastes may include among others, wood and cardboards (Bhat et al., 2018). Non-biodegradable are recalcitrant and persist for long periods. Such wastes include among others, wastes from mining operations, polyethene bags, leathers, plastics (Alam et al., 2013). Thus in order to enhance compost operations and achieve the desired compost quality, waste separation must be carried out to remove non-biodegradable components.


Composting begins with waste collection, separation, processing and transformation. During the process of composting, the organic waste is transferred into a pile and allowed for microbial transformation under favourable environmental conditions of oxygen, temperature and moisture. CO2 is released as a by-product (Bernal et al., 2009). Different composting methods exist with each having their merits and demerits. Thus, the composting method to be adopted depends on the one that best suits the goal of the researcher and the type of material to be composted. In vessel composting, the composting materials are placed in a vessel or container which uses forced aeration and mechanical turning to enhance the composting process. This method is labour and capital intensive (Gonawala and Jardosh, 2018). The organic waste is placed on a long narrow windrow which should be turned on a regular basis for aeration in windrow composting. Although this method is costly, it is a very quick way of composting (Gonawala and Jardosh, 2018). In vermicomposting, the earthworm is used for the composting process. They feed on a variety of organic wastes and their excreta called “casting” is rich in all kinds of nutrients required for soil fertility and plant growth (Bhat et al., 2018). Static composting is an old method whereby the organic waste is put into piles and allowed for passive aeration. This method is time consuming and results in slow degradation of organic wastes (Gonawala and Jardosh, 2018). Sheet composting involves spreading the organic waste as mulch onto the soil and tilled intermittently with a hoe, garden fork or spade for the waste to decay. This method is economical and a simple way of composting (Parihar and Sharma, 2021). Indian Bangalore composting is recommended for the composting of night soil and refuse. This method was developed in Bangalore, India (Misra et al., 2003).

In a study involving the rate of degradation in composting, it was reported that organic waste containing aliphatic or polysaccharide compounds degrades faster than that containing aromatic compounds (Torres-Climent et al., 2015). It is noteworthy that humic acid is an important parameter for determining mature compost. The water soluble carbon comprising sugars, phenolic substances, amino acids, peptides, hemicellulose and other easily biodegradable materials are the most common biological parameter which suggests compost maturity (Goyal et al., 2005). Galitskaya et al. (2017) reported that there are chemical and biological changes during composting as a result of microbial succession, which is dependent on temperature changes. Hafeez et al. (2018) reported that fungi and bacteria are predominantly present during composting.

Microbiology of Composting

The microbiology of composting or the composting process is divided into three phases; the 1st mesophilic phase, the thermophilic phase and the 2nd mesophilic phase known as the cooling or maturation phase as shown below (Fig. 1). Different microorganisms predominate at different phases of composting. The initial composition of organic matter, moisture content, quantity and composition of the microbial community, determines the duration of each stage (Fisher and Glaser, 2012). In the first mesophilic stage, mesophilic bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes are actively present. They grow at temperature of 15 to 45oC with an optimum growth range of 30 to 39oC, utilizing the carbon-rich substrates at the initial stage of composting (Schiraldi and De Rosa, 2014). The microbial activities during the decomposition process will result in an increase in temperature and a decrease in pH, which could stimulate the proliferation of fungi that breakdown the readily digestible carbon sources into organic acids, leading to a drop in pH of the compost (Kausar et al., 2013). Strong organic matter component of the composting materials is broken down by fungi such as molds and yeast; this enables bacteria to synergistically continue the decomposition process. Thus many compounds such as sugars, amino acids and other simple organic matter are rapidly degraded in this phase. Moreover, the transformation of organic matter results in rapid increase in temperature and the composting will undergo the second phase known as the thermophilic phase (Rastogi et al., 2020). The thermophilic phase is the stage where most of the degradation takes place. At this stage, fats, cellulose, hemicellulose and some lignin are degraded by thermophilic bacteria and fungi. Mesophiles are succeeded by thermophiles such as actinomycetes, which grow at optimum temperature between 40 to 80oC (Santos et al., 2006). As the carbon source gets exhausted towards the end of the thermophilic stage, the temperature gradually decreases as the composting enters the cooling or maturation phase (Gajalakshmi and Abbasi, 2008). At the second mesophilic or cooling phase, the amount of substrate for growth becomes limiting, resulting to a decline in microbial activity. As a result of the depletion of nutrients and low temperature characteristics of this final maturation stage, the activity of thermophilic microorganisms ceases and mesophilic microorganisms recolonize the organic matter and degrade the remaining organic materials. At this stage, the compost is mature and the microflora present plays a crucial role in compost maturity and the inhibition of plant diseases because of the metabolism of phytotoxic compounds (Palaniveloo et al., 2020). Maaroufi et al. (2019) reported that few fungi species can completely degrade lignin which actinomycetes and bacteria are not capable of degrading.

Figure Image is Available in PDF Format

Fig.1. Different stages of composting in relation with temperature changes

Factors affecting the quality of Compost

For optimum application of the compost as a fertilizer for plant growth, the quality of the final product is of paramount importance, and is measured on the basis of the biodegradability of organic matter (Azim et al., 2018). The pH, carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio, organic matter content, humification ratio as well as cation exchange capacity (CEC) are key parameters used to determine the quality of a stable compost (Azim et al., 2018). Mature compost has a pH between 7 and 9, while an acidic pH is an indicator of immature compost (Tibu et al., 2019). It was reported that alkaline pH is most desirable for composting, while an acidic pH destroys the microorganisms involved in composting, thus slowing down the composting process (Ameen et al., 2016; Ayilara et al., 2020). Mature compost has C/N ratio in the range of 15 to 20, but a C/N ratio in the range of 10 to 15 is also regarded as stable compost (Afraa et al., 2016). However, Gonawale and Jardosh (2018) reported that a C/N ratio of 30 is optimum for composting operation. Higher C/N ratio hinders the activities of microorganisms which will invariably slow the decomposition process (Artemio et al., 2018). Since nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia to nitrate (NO3-), they cause a reduction in ammonium (NH4+) content and increase in NO3- during composting. Thus, monitoring the level of NO3- and NH4+ from the beginning to the end of composting could be a useful parameter in determining mature compost (Azim et al., 2018). A mature compost is also expected to have a humic/fulvic acid (HA/FA) ratio greater than 1 but less than 3 (Wichuk and McCartney, 2013). Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is expected to increase during composting. Thus CEC greater than 60 meq.100g-1of organic matter is an indicator of mature compost (Azim et al., 2018). Moreover, mature compost rather than having the smell of ammonia, has a pleasant odor. It also has a constant and low temperature and appears dark in color, a feature that distinguishes mature compost from immature or raw organic waste (Jain et al., 2018).

Other factors that may affect the quality of the compost may include but not limited to oxygen, moisture content, particle size as well as raw material texture. Oxygen is very important during composting. When oxygen is in short supply, there is a tendency that oxygen may be used up during microbial decomposition of composting materials. As a result, an anaerobic environment may be created, leading to the generation of foul odor as well as gases such as methane, CO2, and ammonia (Gonawale and Jardosh, 2018).

Moisture is very important for microbial activities to take place. Moisture content in the range of 40 to 60% should be maintained during composting process (Ameen et al., 2016). Moisture content beyond that range may lead to poor oxygen diffusion which will in turn slow down the metabolic activities of microorganisms. When the moisture content is too low, it will not only affect the pathogens in the compost but will inhibit the beneficial microorganisms which act as a starter culture during composting (Palaniveloo et al., 2020). Chennaou et al. (2018) reported a decrease in moisture content as the composting process progressed.

The particle size of the materials in the range of 1 to 2 inches in diameter is usually best for composting operations (Ayilara et al. 2020). This is because it brings about a higher surface area which helps to enhance microbial activities thereby speeding up the composting process. The rate at which aerobic microorganisms decomposes organic matter increases as the particle size decreases. Nevertheless, very small particles may decrease O2 diffusion inside the pile, thus slowing down the composting period (Zhao et al., 2017).

Raw materials texture also influences the composting process. Hard/tough textured or high lignin degradable organic materials usually take longer time to compost than soft textured organic materials (Ayilara et al., 2020). Moreover, the presence of physical barriers like thorny leaves may cause the composting process to take longer time than expected.

Relevance of Compost

Compost is extremely important to nature and the environment. The use of compost as organic fertilizer in agriculture is a welcome development because of the present-day campaign against the use of synthetic fertilizer (Ayilara et al., 2020). Compost is a product of microbial decomposition of organic waste; as such it is relatively cheap compared to synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. In addition, the use of compost in agriculture is cost effective because it will reduce or eliminate the dependence on expensive chemical fertilizer (Al-Rumaihi et al., 2020). Application of compost in agriculture can aid in improving soil fertility as well as promoting plant growth, due to the presence of plant-growth-promoting bacteria. It was reported that the organic matter of the compost contains biocontrol microorganisms that suppress phytopathogens, thereby protecting plants from diseases (Somerville et al., 2020), thus ensuring food security and improved agricultural yield. Lin et al. (2014) reported that Bacillus sp. present in compost proved very effective in controlling plant wilt and damping-off disease. Surface application of compost as organic soil amendment was reported to be very effective in improving water holding capacity of the soil, maintain soil structure and aggregate stability (Gonawala and Jardosh, 2018). Therefore, compost is very effective in controlling soil erosion due to the presence of humus that binds the soil and as well act as soil glue, holding the soil constituents together (Epelde et al., 2018). Compost is also useful in bioremediation of soil polluted with heavy metals through adsorption, precipitation, complexation and redox reactions (Katoh et al., 2014; Soares et al., 2016). Compost is also rich in microorganisms that are capable of degrading hydrocarbons, solvents, wood preserving chemicals, pesticides, petroleum products, explosives, among others, thereby reducing the toxicity of the chemical pollutants (Huang et al., 2017). Composting is an eco-friendly way of transforming solid wastes that could have been dumped into water bodies, road sides or could have been burned, into various beneficial purposes (Khater, 2015; Gonawala and Jardosh, 2018).

Future Prospects of Composting

The opportunities for the future of compost market are abound and the most common are in agriculture, landscaping, home gardening, horticulture and even construction industries (Palaniveloo et al., 2020). Waliczek et al., (2020) reported an estimate of $ 9.2 billion with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.8% beginning 2019 is expected to be attained in 2024 in the global compost market. In line with the SDGs, most developed countries are targeting to minimize the adverse effect of waste generation through maximizing waste management practices that will be of benefit to humanity and to the environment (Bernal et al., 2017).

There is an increasing demand for organic products probably due to growing awareness of the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to humans and the environment. This has resulted in a shift in preference of compost as organic fertilizer, which is expected to be capable of providing optimum growth in plants for the agricultural sector. However, the ability of compost materials to recycle nutrients back into the soil and minimize organic waste makes it a multifunctional soil improver. Moreover, composting process is in accordance with the concept of circular economy of transforming waste and resources for better use in order to minimize wastage (Palaniveloo et al., 2020). Value is being added into the output through circular economy for as long as possible.

It is noteworthy that many countries all over the world have set up rules guiding the production of compost. For instance, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have all enacted regulations guiding the compost production and use in order to ensure the quality of the compost material (Bernal et al., 2017). MSW compost is undoubtedly a promising material with a significant amount of benefits to the environment, economy and society. With the advent of modern technologies, knowledge of microbial diversity will assist in optimizing and developing high quality compost material in accordance with global requirements.


MSW composting is no doubt an up-and-coming technology with enormous benefits to the environment, economy and the society. It is an economically and eco-friendly way of turning organic waste into several beneficial uses. As the world is moving towards organic foods in preference to chemically produced products due to increasing awareness of the effects of chemical fertilizer and pesticides on human health and the environment, organic fertilizer compost is seen as a gate way to achieving this desire. However, more awareness still needs to be created on the benefits of compost to humanity for its full acceptance and implementation by farmers.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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