The Impact of bioremediation!
There is no doubt that environmental pollution is rising across the globe due to the extractive nature of our industries and growing population. In response to the alarming reports on climate change and biodiversity loss and in line with a wide variety of legislative and voluntary frameworks, countries and companies are shifting their focus to find more sustainable methods of operating to protect and restore our natural ecosystems.
South Africa’s waste regulations and strategies are continually evolving to drive the hierarchy of waste management principles which prioritise waste avoidance, minimization, re-use, recycling, recovery and treatment over landfill disposal. This, coupled with growing consumer awareness, is creating the need for circular economy and green technology solutions to assist in managing our waste more effectively and environmentally safely.
One of the challenges we face is large-scale soil contamination especially given the size and impact of the local mining industry. Contaminated soil not only poses an environmental and health risk at ground level but can also affect groundwater systems. Of course, the waste industry must lead this fight to ensure pollutants, and toxins from soil, and water can be managed and even rectified. Innovation again becomes pivotal in the fight against such pollutants and tools that enable eco-friendly management are critical to changing the current status quo. Traditional methods of dealing with contaminated soil was landfill disposal however, the rise in various bioremediation treatment methods, are providing greater economic, social and environmental benefits to the market.
Bioremediation technology enables the decontamination of soil and groundwater and has enabled the clean-ups of a variety of environmental spills in our rivers, oceans and on land. It essentially entails using living organisms, like microbes and bacteria, to remove contaminants, pollutants, and toxins from soil and water. And it works so well, that bioremediation can be used to clean up contaminated groundwater in a variety of sectors – currently our solutions are focused mainly in the mining sector.
Bioremediation is a treatment method that makes use of the inherent, natural ability of certain micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria and fungus) to degrade or mineralize organic contaminants into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, microbial cell proteins and other simple organic compounds. This is due to the specific enzyme systems contained in certain micro-organisms that allow for their utilization of contaminants such as hydrocarbons as a source of carbon and energy.
There are various bioremediation methods but some of the most common include microbial bioremediation which uses micro-organisms to break down contaminants by using them as a food source, phytoremediation which uses plants to bind, extract and clean up pollutants such as pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, metals and chlorinated solvents and mycoremediation which uses fungi’s digestive enzymes to break down contaminants such as pesticides, hydrocarbons and heavy metals.
Many factors affect the success of these solutions such as aeration, pH levels, moisture content, temperature, nutrient and contaminant concentrations and bio-availability, hence the need to analyse and determine the most appropriate solution and then monitor and control the treatment process carefully to achieve the best results.
However, if we want to make a real impact in industrial sectors, we can’t just provide an eco-friendly solution, but we need to offer legal compliance and the potential to save money. Can this be done? Yes, it can and it must. If we use the mining sector as an example again, contributing roughly 13.5 billion U.S. dollars each year to the South African GDP,then surely ensuring that their output does not make any negative impact on the planet – is worth it? The same applies for any other industry that may have the potential to contaminate soil.
Bioremediation solutions examine ways in which to ensure the soil and water in and around plants and production facilities are safer for use but also, if done correctly, allows them to reduce the reliance on landfills and decrease the businesses carbon footprint. Such waste streams can become an opportunity if analysed and managed correctly.
Many industrial activities have unfortunately resulted in undesired contamination of soil, which is often toxic to human and animal health however, we have great solutions that can combat such pollutants – it takes commitment to innovation, integrating lessons from nature and implementing best practice by all parties. The smallest thing can make the biggest difference!