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TECHNICAL PAPER #9
Dr. Eldridge Collins
Philip R. Goodrich
1600 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 500
Arlington, Virginia 22209 USA
Tel: 703/276-1800 . Fax: 703/243-1865
Agricultural Waste Recycling
[sup.c]1984, Volunteers in Technical Assistance
This paper is one of a series published by Volunteers in
Assistance to provide an introduction to specific
technologies of interest to people in developing countries.
The papers are intended to be used as guidelines to help
people choose technologies that are suitable to their situations.
They are not intended to provide construction or
details. People are
urged to contact VITA or a similar organization
for further information and technical assistance if they
find that a particular technology seems to meet their needs.
The papers in the series were written, reviewed, and
almost entirely by VITA Volunteer technical experts on a
Some 500 volunteers were involved in the production
of the first 100 titles issued, contributing approximately
5,000 hours of their time.
VITA staff included Leslie Gottschalk
and Maria Giannuzzi as editors, Julie Berman handling
and layout, and Margaret Crouch as project manager.
VITA Volunteer Walter Eshenaur, the author of this paper, is
research assistant in the Department of Agricultural
at the University of Minnesota, where he specializes in
Eldridge Collins, one of the reviewers of this
paper, is with the department of Agricultural Engineering,
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia
Institute and State University.
VITA Volunteer reviewer Philip R.
Goodrich is an Associate Professor with the Department of
Engineering, University of Minnesota.
reviewer Martin Wulfe is a consultant in the field of energy
He has performed several consultancies in renewable
energy assessment in Africa, Indonesia, and West
has also published several articles and a section in a book
VITA is a private, nonprofit organization that supports
working on technical problems in developing countries.
information and assistance aimed at helping individuals and
groups to select and implement technologies appropriate to
maintains an international Inquiry Service, a
specialized documentation center, and a computerized roster
volunteer technical consultants; manages long-term field
and publishes a variety of technical manuals and papers.
By VITA Volunteer Walter Eshenaur
Agriculture is the most important direct source of
the largest source of employment in the world's less
agriculture sector produces food crops, meat and
other animal products, energy crops, and industrial
also produces billions of tons of other materials long
as "waste." The main types of agricultural waste
are crop residues,
the parts of crop plants that are not eaten, and farm
animal waste products.
In the past, the vast majority of these
materials was indeed wasted.
Agricultural experts are coming to recognize that
residues can be thought of as a "resource out of
of simply waste or by-products.
This is a very important change
of perspective which permits the evaluation of waste from a
Once an evaluation of waste is embarked
upon, it becomes obvious that this resource represents a
solution to the energy dilemma facing agriculture
the agricultural waste resource is understood as a
source of energy, then steps to utilize this energy may be
With appropriate techniques, agricultural wastes can be
to produce an important source of energy and natural
for crops. Recycling
agricultural wastes can help a developing
country reduce its dependence on foreign energy supplies and
raise the standard of living in its rural areas.
This paper discusses the general theory involved in
agricultural wastes and several popular methods.
It does not
present detailed practical examples.
It is important to stress
that the choice of recycling method will depend on the type
waste available and on the end use the farmer has in mind
recycled waste. It
is hoped that readers will adapt the general
methods discussed in this paper to their own local
KINDS OF AGRICULTURAL WASTE
The main kinds of agricultural waste are crop residues and
animal waste. Most
of the energy contained in crop residues is in
the form of carbohydrates and cellulose.
Table 1 shows the chemical
composition of some residues.
1. Composition of Some Residues
Source: P. van der
Wal, "Perspectives on Bioconversion of Organic
Residues for Rural Communities, "Proceedings of
Organic Residues for Rural Commuinities (Tokyo, Japan:
Nations University), 1979, p. 5.
All the residues in Table 1 contain mostly organic
developing countries, poultry generally are allowed to
digest much of the organic matter ingested.
Thus, poultry do not
produce as much organic matter as crop residues.
Ash is the waste
that remains unused even after the most rigorous of
processes. The main
content of ash is inorganic substances such
as potassium and phosphorus.
Energy extraction from crude protein
is difficult but is very useful for animal or human
since in this way the protein may be utilized.
Crude fiber may
remain somewhat unused if fed to some animals.
digested aerobically (in the presence of oxygen),
(in the absence of oxygen), chemically (using alkali or
or through composting, crude fiber will break down to
carbohydrates that are easily digested either by animals or
The amount of nitrogen-free extract indicates how much
Comparing amounts of organic matter and nitrogen-free
extract indicates approximately how much nitrogen is made
available through digestion or chemical treatment.
A higher percentage
of nitrogen-free extract indicates a lower percentage of
available nitrogen and vice versa.
Nitrogen plays an important
role in soil conditioning and refeeding to animals since it
necessary nutrient for both.
Nitrogen also plays an important
role in aerobic and anaerobic processes;however, these
change the form of nitrogen, which may influence its
to plants, volatility, or leachability.
Grain straw represents the largest component of crop
indicated by Table 1, large part of grain straw is crude
Thus the method for recycling grain straw should include
type of decomposition process to extract maximum
although easier to digest, should receive somewhat the same
treatment as grain straw.
Citrus and vegetable residues are relatively easy to digest
direct methods of extracting energy such as refeeding or
incorporation work well.
However, due to the ease of digestion,
other forms of energy such as methane or alcohol may utilize
these residues more fully since the decomposition process is
conclusion, when recycling crop residues, some type
of decomposition treatment is desirable.
Animal waste includes manure (feces and urine) along with
bedding, other liquids, and soil.
Other wastes such as milkhouse
and washing wastes, hair, and feathers may also be included
within this category.
The composition of animal manure depends upon "animal
digestibility, protein, and fiber contents of rations; and
age, environment, and productivity" (Midwest Plan
Due to varying diets and wastes, only estimates can be given
properties and nutrient content of manure.
Table 3 shows manure
production and characteristics of some popular animals.
Explanations of Table 3 are as follows.
Raw manure includes feces
and urine without bedding.
Feces refers to the solids component
of manure. Percent
raw manure (percent RM) is the percentage of
the raw manure that is made up of feces.
Total solids is the sum
of dissolved and undissolved components of the manure.
solids refers to the amount of material that will burn or
volatile under a temperature of 550 degrees Centigrade.
oxygen used for the biochemical oxidation of organic matter
referred to as the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD).
The five (5)
refers to the BOD after five days in a 20 degrees Centigrade
Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) is not used in
engineering design but represents the total oxygen demand if
inorganic and organic material is oxidized.
The COD will always
be a higher value than the BOD.
The main emphasis of Table 3 is to show the various
different animal manures.
It is clear that varying manures differ
in all categories and recommendations may be made as to what
recycling process could be used with each manure.
Table 2 shows daily manure production and is somewhat more
than Table 3.
Explanations for total solids, volatile
solids and BOD are the same as for Table 3.
Dairy cattle produce more manure than any other individual
poultry produce the least.
However, if production per unit
weight is calculated, poultry produce almost as much as any
manure also contains less water than others.
Total solids and BOD are quite high for poultry, but so are
Thus, although poultry manure production is
slightly lower than that for cattle (per unit weight), its
solids or decomposable material is higher.
This is a positive
characteristic for aerobic and anaerobic digestion even
the BOD is rather high.
Dairy manure is also high in total solids
and therefore provides good digester input (influent).
of BOD to total solids is high for swine (0.32) and
decreases from poultry (0.26) to beef (0.23) to dairy cattle
(0.16). This ratio
indicates the relative amount of oxygen necessary
to decompose the solids.
A high number suggests high oxygen
use and a low number suggests low oxygen use.
Thus, for bacterial
processes that require oxygen (most common ones do), dairy
will decompose with less oxygen input than will swine
decomposition such as aerobic digestion, direct land
or composting, dairy manure will provide more decomposed
and thus more nutrients per unit time than will swine
the controlled decomposition of anaerobic digestion, oxygen
is not important because it is not used to a large extent.
However, oxygen demand does reflect indirectly the amount of
organic matter present.
A higher oxygen demand suggests a higher
organic matter content and vice versa.
Data in Tables 2 and 3 were developed by the American
Agricultural Engineers based on work reported in the
and represents American or European feeding methods.
may vary by up to 20 percent for animals in confined or
animals that are on a total forage diet
(i.e., pasture grazing), the data for a beef cow will be
accurate. They will
probably give values that are too low, except
for nitrogen, which may be high.
Drying of manure is also used for some recycling
3 shows that swine manure contains the highest water content
poultry manure the lowest.
Thus for drying it is better to use
poultry than swine manure.
Nutrient content is an important value in determining which
manure will provide the best refeeding or land application
4 shows relative nutrient qualities.
Nutrients Per Manure Quantity
gal. manure pound/ton raw manure
Source: Midwest Plan
Service, 1975, p. 5.
Nutrient levels are given only for nitrogen (N), potassium
and phosphorus (P).
Other nutrients are minor and are either
almost totally lost during decomposition or are
Land application requires that as many nutrients as possible
remain in the soil after decomposition.
In fact, the highest
nutrient content will be without decomposition.
This is somewhat
misleading, however, since nitrogen occurs in several forms,
all of which are available to be used by plants.
The best form of
nitrogen is ammonia which is easily used by plants.
efficient method of obtaining ammonia is anaerobic
the liquid effluent must be used immediately or the nitrogen
also produces ammonia but since the composting
materials must be aerated, most of the ammonia is lost.
shows that only poultry manure is high in phosphorus.
and potassium are stable inorganic compounds and are not
most decomposition processes.
Thus, both phosphorus and potassium
will remain to be used in the soil after decomposition.
is a necessary soil nutrient and usually more is needed
than can be provided by animal manure.
Thus, although nutrients
necessary for recycling are present in animal manure, they
not sufficient to supply the total needs of the recycling
of most post recycling applications.
II. METHODS OF RECYCLING AGRICULTURAL WASTE
This section discusses five popular recycling methods:
digestion, refeeding, land application, composting, and
The choice of the best method depends on the type of waste
recycled and the end use intended for the recycled
methods discussed here must be adapted to specific local
Table 5 gives some potential end uses of organic residues.
Anaerobic digestion is used to break down the starch and
components of crop residue to produce biogas for lighting or
decomposition of organic matter under anaerobic
conditions produces amino acids, carbon dioxide, hydrogen
and methane. All
these gases are either very toxic (hydrogen
sulfide) or contribute to lack of sufficient oxygen (carbon
and methane). Biogas
under most circumstances will burn directly
from the digester.
For applications in internal combustion engines,
the carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide must be removed.
But removing these gases requires more complex technology
not available in developing countries.
Biogas will provide heat.
The aim of anaerobic digestion is to decompose as much
matter as possible and produce as much biogas as
requires a high quantity of degradable starch, and a little
cellulose. Table 1
shows that grain straw, grass, and citrus
residues are not the best organic materials.
Animal manure, on
the other hand, contains much degradable carbohydrates, has
cellulose, and has a relatively high nutrient level.
carbohydrates may be desired depending upon the type of
manure being used.
Table 1 shows that poultry manure is lower in
organic material than crop residues and is higher in organic
material than manure from swine or ruminants (cattle, sheep,
goats). Thus, crop
residue alone is not desirable for the production
of biogas; a mixture of animal manure and crop residue is
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5. Potential End Uses of Organic Residues
upgrading (physical, chemical, microbial)
residue of biogas production
Barreveld, "Availability of Organic Residues as a
Rural Resource," Proceedings of Bioconversion of
for Rural Communities (Tokyo Japan:
University), 1079, p. 10.
Nitrogen is an important nutrient in anaerobic digestion and
usually some will remain after digestion is complete.
of anaerobic digestion include phosphorus, potassium,
biogas, organic acids, alcohols, and cellulotic organic
Advantages of anaerobic digestion include:
low initial cost
low operating cost
simple operation (once process has started)
wide variation of loading rates
low nutrient requirement
useful end product: methane
effluent usable as soil conditioner
difficult starting procedure
slow rate of microbial growth
best production at elevated temperatures
Anaerobic digestion is becoming more popular because of its
increasing economic viability and improvements in
However, before any attempt to introduce anaerobic digestion
a particular culture, expert advice should be sought.
do not allow the handling of human wastes and may consider
digestion as imposing on an already viable use.
Great care must
be taken in implementing this technology.
Refeeding of crop and animal wastes works well with
because this family of animals can utilize the nutrients in
available form. The
bacteria within a ruminant's stomach system
break down non-protein nitrogen and utilize it as energy.
animals such as horses and swine cannot utilize this form
of nitrogen and do not benefit from direct refeeding without
prior treatment, except for protein utilization.
Some crop residues should be treated before recycling.
or bran will provide the necessary nutrients for livestock
if soaked in an alkali bath, the digestibility
of these crop residues increases almost twofold.
provides, for the same amount of roughage, a great increase
It also allows animals to produce more
milk or realize a greater increase in weight.
Refeeding of leafy
wastes works well and digestibility is good.
However, as with
grain residues, pretreatment is recommended, but not with
Any animal manure may be refed but poultry seems to be the
economical since it contains the highest nutrient
per unit weight.
Crop residues are also good for ruminant refeeding
but, as mentioned earlier, processing with alkali or
ammonia will increase the digestibility greatly.
It is very important to process animal manure by drying or
before refeeding to prevent pathogen transfer.
elevated temperatures helps limit pathogen transfer and
the time from excretion to refeeding.
Economically, refeeding of
other than poultry manure is questionable and must be
for each situation.
Cultural taboos on feeding livestock other
than pasture forage may be strong.
Gaining acceptance may require
a positive demonstration that supplementing pasture forage
dried or ensiled manure will indeed bring added nutrients
most likely healthier and strong animals.
Advantages of refeeding include:
up to 75 percent of diet
no change in the taste of milk, meat, or
weight gain remains the same or increases
with 75 percent
good use of previously unused wastes
feed conversion (conversion from roughage to
less than grams
pretreatment of crop residues necessary
drying of manure necessary
possible negative cultural or economic
For situations where refeeding is culturally and
acceptable, refeeding will increase nutrient levels and
dependence on imported feed.
One of the most useful methods of recycling is reapplication
crop residues to the soil.
Several methods are popular. The
simplest method is reincorporation of residues into the soil
This eliminates the need for postharvest processing.
Much nitrogen is lost, however, through volatilization
of ammonia which is a product of decomposition.
Also, if nitrogen-producing
crops (i.e., legumes) are not grown, the soil will
slowly lose all nitrogen since residues do not return enough
overcome the loss of nitrogen during the growing season.
A second method uses anaerobic digestion to reduce the crude
fiber content yet retain nutrients necessary for soil
Once the digestion process is complete, the effluent is
spread on the soil.
Several important practices must be adhered to in order to
nutrient retention in the soil.
First, most nitrogen contained
within the effluent is in the form of ammonia.
a low vapor pressure and thus will evaporate quickly.
ammonia breaks down quickly in the presence of oxygen.
the volatilization of the ammonia, immediate incorporation
of the effluent into the soil is necessary.
This practice of
incorporation requires a labor- or energy-intensive
some situations this may not be possible.
Second, nightsoil and manure constitute better inputs for
digestion when combined with crop residues.
Even with the
rigorous decomposition that occurs in the digestion process,
pathogens and parasites can survive and enter the soil.
very dangerous as these pathogens and parasites, such as
can eventually reinvade the human body.
Care must be taken
to ensure that as few pathogens as possible are
most effective method of preventing pathogen transfer is not
use nightsoil. Human
pathogens are the most harmful and resistant
Another method is to operate the anaerobic digester
at high temperatures.
This will vastly reduce pathogen count.
third method would be to dry the effluent for an extended
of time. However,
since ammonia is quite volatile, nitrogen loss
would be substantial.
Crop residues and animal manure not only fertilize the soil,
also provide other benefits that are not immediately
Most tropical soils and intensely cultivated soils are
structured, so that the soil is hard and compacted.
This in turn
restricts water movement, plant root penetration, and
transport, and increases surface erosion and tillage
Adding crop residues along with animal manure increases
soil aggregation dramatically.
By increasing aggregation, the
soil may be tilled more easily (or not at all in some circumstances),
nutrient and water movement increases, and roots may
productivity is increased substantially while
decreasing tillage needs.
A note of caution must be mentioned here.
To raise the aggregation
of the soil by a substantial amount, large amounts of
must be used. Bulk
density relates to the aggregation of the
soil. Typical bulk
densities range from about 1.00 (gram/cubic
centimeter) for highly aggregated soils to 2.00 for very
soils. To decrease
the bulk density, the mass of solids must be
decreased. This is
accomplished by adding highly porous residues,
thereby increasing the volume per unit mass.
If the bulk density
of one hectare of land 10 centimeters deep is to be reduced
1.5 to 1.2, calculations show that 1,500 tons (metric) of
must be added. This
is a large amount and may take several years
to accomplish. This
simple example shows that soil conditioning
through residue incorporation can improve soil properties
take time to do so.
Advantages of soil conditioning include:
increased soil nutrients
higher soil aggregation
less dependence on imported fertilizer
less tillage required
reduction of surface soil erosion
low capital investment
more soil moisture
large quantities required
residue pretreatment recommended
weed seed concentration
Economic considerations would include handling and
procedures. This is
a labor intensive method of recycling and may
be marginally economical in most situations.
is usually directly related to successful demonstration;
are usually not an obstacle.
For this recycling method to improve
a situation, full cooperation of producers is important
large quantities of residue are required.
Composting is the practice of metabolizing residue by using
aerobic microorganisms to break down organic matter into
nutrients for application to the soil.
Composting also decreases
the bulk volume of residue, enabling easier transportation
Composting is accomplished by mounding residue and allowing
heat buildup to start chemical metabolization of organic
matter. This heat
also eliminates pathogens and weed seeds and
provides a stable, dry end-product.
For composting to be successful, certain methods must be
Moisture content should be maintained at 50 percent by
a temperature of 60 degrees Centigrade maximizes
Mixing is important since composting is an aerobic
mixing is not possible, the composting process may take
long. Maintaining a
pH between 7 and 9 will ensure proper and
Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus proportions
are important. A
ratio of 25:1:2 respectively ensures rapid
decomposition and stabilization.
If manure is used, the carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus
ratio will change, making addition of crop
A ratio of 20:1 of crop residues to manure
gives best results.
Advantages of composting include:
organic matter metabolization
elimination of pathogens and weed seeds
uniform, dry end-product
no insect or rodent problem
excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner
low capital costs
loss of 50 percent nitrogen
high operating costs
Composting is used in many cultures around the world.
will accept composting as a viable method of obtaining
Composting is labor intensive and could be uneconomical
from that standpoint.
If labor is available, composting and
then soil application is an excellent method of providing
Some crop wastes are best used for burning.
Paddy husks and straw
provide a substantial amount of energy when burned.
residues may be best used in composting or refeeding, but
hulls and straw provide large amounts of energy when simply
In the paddy husk furnace, paddy husks and straw are burned
good aeration. The
exhaust may be routed through a heat exchanger
with the heated air used for drying grain, etc.
materials other than grain chaff and straw may not use the
available in the most appropriate manner and all nitrogen is
Advantages of incineration include:
efficient energy extraction
up to 80 percent volume decrease
heat produced is easily utilized
low capital investment
good aeration is necessary
burned residue is of little value
nitrogen is destroyed.
Culturally, incineration is usually easily
demonstration of viability is important as with most new
Incineration is one recycling method that has proved to be
economical in most situations.
From simple, open fire burning to
furnace incineration, this technology is efficient and
Agricultural waste recycling is of great importance in the
agricultural waste represents a valuable
Agricultural waste may be utilized through many methods
A general overview of theory has been presented in this
Several methods of recycling have been discussed and general
guidelines set forth.
It is hoped that this information will
provide the basis for particular waste recycling projects.
The possibilities of waste recycling are endless.
It is left to
the individuals responsible in particular situations to be
innovative and apply the knowledge presented herein to the
continuing and difficult task of returning a great resource
Barreveld, W. "Availability of Organic Residues as a
Resource." Proceedings of
Bioconversion of Organic Residues
Communities. Tokyo, Japan: United
Bewick, M.W.M. Handbook of Organic Waste Conversion. New
Reinhold Co., 1980. 418 pp.
Bruttini, A. Use of Waste Materials. Westminster, England:
King and Son,
Ltd., 1923. 367 pp.
Cox, G.W. and Atkins, M.D. Agricultural Ecology. San
CA: W.H. Freeman
and Co., 1979. 721 pp.
Midwest Plan Service.
Livestock Waste Facilities Handbook.
Midwest Plan Service, 1975. 94 pp.
Palz, W., and Chartier, P. Energy From Biomass in Europe.
Science Publishers Ltd., 1980. 234 pp.
Pequegnat, C., ed. "Waste Recycling and Canadian
Commercial Uses of Wastes and Animal Feed.
Agricultural Economics Research Council of
van der Wal, P. "Perspectives on Bioconversion of
Rural Communities." Proceedings of Bioconversion
Residues for Rural Communities. Tokyo,
Nations University, 1979.
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