Impact of silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles on the in-vessel composting of biodegradable municipal solid waste
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The extensive use of nanoparticles (NPs) has started receiving increased attention because of the knowledge gaps regarding their fate in the environment and the possible impact on the environment and human health. The production of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2-NPs) is increasing and it is expected that, due to their great number of applications, their concentration in waste streams will increase in the future. The presence of NPs in waste streams may affect the treatment process (e.g., composting) and, if they are not successfully removed from the waste streams, their presence in the treated waste (e.g., compost) may present an environmental risk. Composting of the biodegradable fractions of municipal solid waste (MSW) is a widely used waste management practice, mainly because it is a cost-effective treatment technology and the final product (i.e., compost) presents several benefits to the environment, particularly as a soil conditioner. The overall aim of this thesis is to assess the effect of Ag-TiO2NPs and AgNPs that may be present in the biodegradable fractions of municipal solid waste on composting and subsequent soil application of compost. For that purpose in-vessel composting of artificial municipal solid waste contaminated with commercial nanoparticles was investigated at laboratory scale, simulating a range of relevant concentration levels. Subsequently, the fate of NPs present in mature compost use as a top-layer soil conditioner was investigated using a column approach at laboratory scale. The toxicity effect of NPs present mature compost on plant growth was further investigated. The impact of NPs during composting was assessed by monitoring the temporal dynamics of organic matter (OM) using Excitation Emission Matrix (EEM) fluorescence spectroscopy. The fate of NPs following application of contaminated mature compost as a top-soil conditioner and potential release to groundwater was investigated using a column leaching experiment while the phytotoxicity of mature compost contaminated with NPs was assessed using a seed germination bioassay. Finally, to investigate further possible environmental impacts due to the application of mature compost contaminated with NPs to soils, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was conducted. The impact of commercial Ag-TiO2 NPs and AgNPs on the in-vessel composting of biodegradable municipal solid waste was investigated over 21 days, using initial concentrations of 0, 5, 10, 20 and 50 mg Ag / kg of OM. Microbial activity was inhibited in the biodegradable waste reactors using 2% NaN3 to evaluate abiotic losses. Physicochemical parameters such as pH, ash content, weight loss, and the formation of humic substances (HS) were determined after 0, 4, 7, 14 and 21 days of composting and after a maturation phase. The results indicated that the presence of 2% NaN3 in biodegradable MSW inhibited effectively the microbial activity during the first week of composting. The microbial population was activated during the second week of composting but the decomposition rate was so low that did not result in the formation of humic substances (HS) following 21 days of composting when 2% NaN3 was used. Both treatments, using Ag-TiO2-NPs and AgNPs, did not show any inhibition of the decomposition process for all the tested concentrations and EEM peaks shifted towards the HS region during in-vessel composting. Higher inorganic carbon removal resulted from NP-contaminated compost with higher NP concentrations. This may indicate that the formation of humins was higher for non-contaminated compost and decreased as the NP concentration in waste increased. The shift of the peaks towards the HS region during composting for all the treatments suggested that NPs did not have an effect on humification and therefore on compost stability. The leaching properties of the NP-contaminated compost were investigated using a column leaching test. Five samples of leachate, of 50 mL each, were collected. The highest concentrations of HS were observed in the first two leaching samples. The leaching results suggested that only a low percentage of the total NPs (in weight) in compost, up to ca. 5% for Ag and up to ca. 15% for Ti, leached out from the columns, which was assumed the amount that potentially could leach to the environment. These results suggested that NPs will mainly accumulate in soils’ top layers following application of compost contaminated with NP. The phytotoxicity of NP-contaminated compost was assessed using a seed germination bioassay and the germination index was then calculated. The results indicated that the NP-contaminated compost did not present any toxic effects to cress germination. The possible environmental impacts due to the NP-contaminated compost application to soils were investigated by conducting a comparative LCA study. The LCA study indicated that the effects of NP-contaminated compost to human health and ecosystems endpoint categories increased due to the presence of NPs. The risks are associated with terrestrial ecotoxicity and human toxicity midpoint categories and are mainly attributed to the accumulation of Ag to soils.