Management for utilization of organic waste material must take into account the chemical reactions that occur between the soil and the waste components. These reactions are broadly grouped as ion exchange, adsorption, precipitation, and complexation. The mechanisms and rates of these reactions are dependent upon physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil and organic waste material.
Organic waste mineralization by-products consist of macro- and micro-plant nutrients, soluble salts, gases, and heavy metals. These by-products dissolve and enter soil water solutions as precipitation or irrigation water infiltrates the soil surface and percolates through the soil profile. The dissolved by-products are subject to the interactions of ionic exchange, adsorption, precipitation, or complexation. These processes store and exchange the macro- and micro-plant nutrient by-products of organic waste mineralization. They also intercept and attenuate heavy metals, salts, and other detrimental mineralization by-products that can adversely affect plant growth and crop production.
Ion exchange reactions involve both cations and anions (table 5-1). Ionic exchange and adsorption is the replacement or interchange of ions bonded electrostatically to exchange sites on soil particles and soil organic materials with similarly charged ions in the soil solution. This ionic interchange occurs with little or no alteration to exchanging ions.
Cation exchange is the adsorption and exchange of nonmetal and metal cations to negatively charged sites on soil particles and soil organic materials. Cation-exchange capacity (CEC) is the measure of a soil's potential to exchange cations and is related to soil mineralogy, pH, and organic matter content.
Anion exchange is the exchange and replacement of negatively charged ions to positively charged sites on soil particles. Anion exchange capacity is relatively low in most soils when compared to cation exchange; however, anion exchange is important because the anion exchange potential of the soil is related to its ability to retain and exchange nitrate nitrogen (NO3-N), sulfate, chloride, boron, molybdenum, and phosphorus.
Adsorption and precipitation are processes that remove an ion from the soil solution. Sorption occurs as ions attach to the solid soil surface through weak chemical and molecular bonds or as strong chemical bonds. Precipitation is the deposition of soluble compounds in soil voids. It occurs when the amount of the dissolved compounds in the soil solution exceeds the solubility of those compounds.
Complexation is the interaction of metals with soil organic matter and some oxides and carbonates, resulting in the formation of large, stable molecules. This process extracts phosphorus and heavy metals from the soil solution. These stable complexes act as sinks for phosphorus, heavy metals, and some soil micronutrients.
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