ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Phytoremediation: Using Plants to Clean up Toxic Waste

Updated on March 2, 2018
Rock_nj profile image

I thoroughly enjoy writing, especially about environmental issues and how to make the environment we live in better for everyone.

Phytoremediation - Using Plants to Remediate Polluted Sites

In many cases, remediation of sites with soil or ground water pollution can be done naturally using phytoremediation, which utilizes plants to naturally cleanup toxic waste. Phyto means pertaining to plants, while remediation means correcting an error or a fault. Phytoremediation has become more popular in recent years because of the passive way plants are used to clean up polluted sites and the lower cost of using phytoremediation versus more expensive toxic waste cleanup schemes, such as digging up contaminated dirt and hauling it to a landfill.

Since the creation of United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in 1970, the United States has embarked on a mission to cleanup (remediate) polluted properties, including the well known Superfund program that addresses the most severely polluted sites. Various remediation methods have been utilized over the years to bring contaminant levels on polluted properties below regulatory thresholds, which in many cases allows properties to be returned to productive uses in the communities in which they are located.

In the early years, remediation of polluted sites consisted of little more than excavating and disposing of contaminated soil at landfills designed and licensed to accept contaminated soil and/or the use of a ground water treatment system to treat ground water contamination (pump and treat), both of which are costly. As the science of pollution remediation has advanced, new remediation methods have been developed that are less intrusive and more economical to implement, among these methods is phytoremediation, which is a passive method of cleaning up certain types of soil contamination.

Phytoremediation – Plants That Clean Up Toxic Waste


How Phytoremediation Cleans Up Toxic Waste

Phytoremediation is the in-situ (in place) treatment of environmental contaminants through the use of plants that remediate the environmental pollution naturally without the need to excavate the contaminated soil and dispose of it off-site or to treat contaminated ground water with a costly treatment system. Phytoremediation can be used to reduce concentrations of metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil and its derivatives, and various other contaminants from the soil and ground water that contain them. However, the primary use of phytoremediation is for the treatment of toxic metals in soil.

Phytoremediation utilizes the natural ability of certain plants called hyperaccumulators (such as mustard plants, alpine pennycress, and pigweed) to bioaccumulate, degrade, or render harmless contaminants in soil and ground water. The plants are planted in a contaminated area. As the plants grow and their roots extend into the subsurface, they draw contaminants into their structure, thus removing them from the subsurface. Once the plants have grown to maturity, they are harvested and disposed of in a manner consistent with hazardous waste disposal. In some cases, the metals that have been drawn into the plants are processed and recovered for resale, due to their value, in a process known as “phyto mining”.

Phytoremediation requires a long-term commitment, as the process is dependent on plant growth and numerous plantings and harvesting cycles. The tolerance of the plants to the toxicity of the contaminants they are absorbing and the capacity of the plants to bioaccumulate the contaminants are factors that can limit the effectiveness of phytoremediation. A major limitation of phytoremediation is that its use is limited to the surface area and the depth occupied by the root structures of the plants. The cost of phytoremediation is significantly less than the cost of traditional contaminated site remediation methods, which makes it an attractive alternative for remediation of polluted sites when site conditions are favorable.

Using plants to clean up toxic waste via phytoremediation has proven its worth in the field of environmental remediation and is now an accepted method of remediating contaminated properties. Due to its cost advantages, phytoremediation was utilized to clean up numerous properties that were contaminated in New Orleans by the hurricane Katrina flooding.

See Also: Bioremediation – Using Microorganisms to Cleanup Toxic Waste

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 John Coviello


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)