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Solid Waste as Low-Cost Materials for Heavy Metal Removal from Contaminated Wastewater

Due to rapid urbanization and substantial economic development in recent decades, the generation of excessive solid waste (SW) (Figure 1) has become one of the most serious problems, which needs to be addressed urgently for environmental protection. Eventually strategic measures need to be undertaken not only with SW, which cannot be recycled and is of no further use.


Figure 1.Solid waste as a source of low-cost materials

As landfill is the most widely employed methods worldwide for the disposal of solid waste, the continuous growth in solid waste generation suggests that particularly countries will run out of landfill space far earlier than expected, considering that the recovery rate of the disposed SW in the world’s urban cities is still less than 30% out of the total SW generated annually on average (Kurniawan, 2007).

To tackle this persistent problem for environmental protection, strategic efforts need to be undertaken. As a part of integrated solid waste management (ISWM) plan that includes recycle, reuse and recovery (3R), the disposed SW, representing unused resources, may be used as low cost materials to treat contaminated wastewater laden with heavy metals, refractory compounds, and/or emerging contaminants (Babel and Kurniawan, 2003).

In recent years, the search for low-cost adsorbents that have metal-binding capacities has intensified. Materials locally available in large quantities such as natural materials, agricultural waste or industrial by-products can be utilized as low-cost adsorbents. Some of these materials can be used as adsorbents with little processing.  Conversion of these materials into activated carbon, which can be used as an adsorbent for water purification, would improve economic value, helping industries reduce the cost of waste disposal in landfills, and most importantly, provide a potential alternative to costly activated carbon (Kurniawan et al., 2006a; 2006b; 2006c).

Recently coconut shell charcoal (CSC) (Figure 2) has been developed into one of the promising options for heavy metal removal from contaminated wastewater.


Figure 2. Coconut shell charcoal as a potential source of low cost adsorbent for water treatment

The exchange/sorption properties of coconut shell are due to the presence of some functional groups, such as carboxylic, hydroxyl, and lactone, which have a high affinity for metal ions (Babel and Kurniawan, 2004). Coconut shell (Figure 3), a hard and thick bony endocarp material, which presents serious disposal problems for local environment, is an abundantly available agricultural waste from local coconut industry. According to the statistics of the Thai Ministry of Commerce (1998), about 1.4 million tons of coconut ( Cocos nucifera) are produced in Thailand annually. In their studies, Babel and Kurniawan (2004) reported the technical applicability of coconut shell charcoal to remove toxic chromium from contaminated wastewater. After pretreatment with oxidizing agents, their performance are comparable to that of commercial activated carbon. If the potential value of CSC is commercially followed up, how much US$ will be generated annually from the market, from which our environment will also be benefited from the reduction of SW disposal in landfills.


Figure 3. Abundantly available coconut shell from agricultural industry

This idea may provide relevant inputs for local government and relevant stakeholders to formulate and implement integrated solid waste management plan in holistic manners. These strategies may provide a policy framework for the management of SW to accomplish the target of reducing SW generation worldwide by 1% annually. In general, this approach may pave a way to attain an environmental sustainability, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), by 2015.

Further reading

Babel, S. and Kurniawan, T.A. (2004) Cr(VI) removal from synthetic wastewater using coconut shell charcoal and commercial activated carbon modified with oxidizing agents and/ or chitosan. Chemosphere 54(7):951-967. (February 2004)
Babel, S. and Kurniawan, T.A. (2003) Low-cost adsorbents for heavy metal uptake from contaminated water: a review. Journal of Hazardous Materials B97:219-243. (28 Feb 2003) .
Kurniawan, T.A. (2008). Removal of Recalcitrant Contaminants from Stabilized Landfill Leachate by a Combination of Advanced Oxidation Processes ( AOP) and Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Adsorption. PhD Dissertation, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong.
Kurniawan, T.A. et al. (2006a). Comparison of low-cost adsorbents for treating wastewater laden with heavy metals. Science Total Environment 366(2-3): 407-424. (01 August 2006a)
Kurniawan, T.A. et al. (2006b). Physico-chemical treatment techniques for treatment of wastewater laden with heavy metals. Chemical Engineering Journal 118(1-2): 83-98. (01 August 2006b)
Kurniawan, T.A. et al. (2006c). Physico-chemical treatments for removal of recalcitrant contaminants from landfill leachate. Journal of Hazardous Material 129(1-3): 80-100. (28 February 2006c)
Thai Ministry of Commerce, 1998. Thai Ministry of Commerce, 1998. Whole Kingdom’s Coconut Production, Department of Business Economics. (Link ») 

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