Worm Composting Soaks Up Heavy Metals, Remediates Waste

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/CC BY-ND 2.0

From airport scale worm composting to vermicomposting farm waste, the idea of using worms to eat our garbage is no longer confined to plastic tubs in TreeHuggers' basements.

But it turns out that worm composting is not just a convenient way of breaking up organic waste, or creating fertilizer. ScienceBlog reports that worm composting can also play a crucial role in remediating wastes and removing toxic heavy metals from biosolids:

The worms’ digestive system is apparently capable of detaching heavy metal ions from the complex aggregates between these ions and humic substances in the waste as it rots. Various enzyme-driven process then seem to lead to assimilation of the metal ions by the worms so that they are locked up in the organism’s tissues rather than being released back into the compost as worm casts. The separation of dead worms from compost is a relatively straightforward process allowing the heavy metal to be removed from the organic waste.

Conducted by a team of Indian researchers led by Swati Pattnaik and M. Vikram Reddy of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, at Pondicherry University, the research holds particular promise for dealing with the growing problem of urban organic waste which is often dumped on the outskirts of major settlements, polluting soils and causing issues for groundwater contamination.

With one Indian city already installing composters at every police station, it seems composting could play an important role in a strategic approach to this rapidly urbanizing country's waste challenges.

Tags: Composting | India | Pollution | Vermicomposting | Waste