In this investigation, activated carbon was prepared from Prosopis juliflora (PJAC) and characterized using porosimetry, scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDX), Elemental analysis (CHNS), Fourier Transmission-Infrared Radiation (FTIR) and X-ray Diffraction (XRD) analysis. Subsequently, PJAC was used in single-component (metronidazole (MNZ), phosphate (PO4 3−) and nitrate (NO3 −)) and multi-component (MNZ:P:N) adsorption systems. As a first step, single-component batch adsorption experiments, i.e. kinetic and equilibrium studies, were conducted at controlled conditions (30 °C) and outcomes were used to find out the rate constant and maximum adsorption capacity (qm). The pseudo-second-order kinetic model was found to well represent the removals of MNZ, PO4 3− and NO3 − on PJAC. Among the five isotherm models used, Langmuir isotherm model has predicted qm of PJAC for MNZ (17.33 mg/g), PO4 3− (13.55 mg/g) and NO3 − (10.99 mg/g) with good correlation. In addition, the thermodynamic parameters have shown that adsorption of MNZ, PO4 3− and NO3 − was non-spontaneous, endothermic and increased randomness in nature. In order to quantify the competitive adsorption of the multi-component system, i.e. MNZ, PO4 3− and NO3 −, the batch experiments were conducted in the presence of all three compounds at a ratio of 1:2.5:5 at three different MNZ:P:N concentrations levels (0.1:0.25:0.5, 1:2.5:5 and 10:25:50 mg/L). The modified Langmuir competitive adsorption isotherm model was used to predict the effect of competitive adsorption. In the multi-component system, the maximum adsorption capacities of MNZ and NO3 − were decreased by ∼34 and ∼2 times, respectively than single compound system; however, it was increased by ∼1.12 times for PO4 3−. Overall, the results indicate that PJAC could be used as a potential adsorbent for the removal of emerging pollutants and nutrients. © 2018 Elsevier B.V.