Development, characterization and evaluation of the efficiency of cost-effective medium for the removal of Pb2+, Cd2+ and Ni2+ from aqueous systems, as a novel, eco-friendly solution for wastewater remediation were done. The precursors for low-cost adsorbent were lignocellulosic raw materials (sweet/sour cherry kernels), as industrial byproducts and components of organic solid waste. Activated carbon synthesis was carried out by thermochemical conversion (H3PO4, 500 °C) in the complete absence of inert atmosphere. Characterization of the activated carbon was performed by elemental analysis, FTIR, SEM, EDX and BET. BET surface area corresponds to 657.1 m2 g−1. The evaluation also included the influence of pH, contact time, solute concentration and adsorbent dose on the separation efficiency in the batch operational mode. The equilibrium and kinetic studies of adsorption were done. The maximum adsorption capacity of the activated carbon for Cd2+ ions was calculated from the Langmuir isotherm and found to be 198.7 mg g−1. Adsorption of Pb2+ and Ni2+ were better suitable to Freundlich model with the maximum adsorption capacity of 180.3 mg g−1 and 76.27 mg g−1, respectively. The results indicate that the pseudo-second-order model best describes adsorption kinetic data. Based on desorption study results, activated carbon was successfully regenerated with HNO3 for 3 cycles. In order to provide the results for basic cost-effective analysis, competing ion-effects in a real sample have been evaluated.