MEPs open the door for waste water operators in fertilisers regulation

The new regulation could cut the EU’s phosphate imports by a third, from six million tonnes per year to four million, according to Commission estimates. [U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr]

The European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee (IMCO) voted on Thursday (13 July) on amendments to the Fertiliser Regulation and suggested it be expanded to open the European market to more innovative products such as organic fertilisers and compost.

As part of the EU’s planned transition to circular agriculture, the European Commission in March 2016 put forward a legislative proposal for the revision of the 2003 Fertiliser Regulation.

In an effort to reduce waste, energy consumption and environmental damage, the Commission’s proposal aims to open the door to more innovative fertilising products.

Until now, the regulation was narrowly focused on mineral fertilisers – mainly phosphates – which are imported from outside Europe. This leaves many new types of organic and waste-based fertilisers outside of its scope, and therefore without access to the EU single market.

The new regulation could cut the EU’s phosphate imports by a third, from six million tonnes per year to four million, according to Commission estimates.

Circular Economy to promote organic fertilisers

The Circular Economy Package will begin with a new regulation on the use of waste products in fertilisers, which could cut the EU’s phosphate imports by a third. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Expanding innovation

Among the suggestions put forward by IMCO committee lawmakers on Thursday was the facilitation of market access for innovative, organic fertilisers, boosting the use of recycled materials for fertiliser production and the establishment of set quality, safety and environmental criteria for “CE marked” fertilisers at an EU level, meaning those fertilisers which can be utilised across the EU single market.

The EU lawmakers also recognised that “promising technical progress” had been achieved in waste recycling. They therefore decided to include the recycling of phosphates, such as struvite, from sewage sludge (a by-product from waste water treatment plants), fertilising product production from animal by-products, such as biochar, and phosphorus recovery after incineration, such as ash-based products.

“It should be possible for products containing or consisting of such materials to access the internal market without unnecessary delay when the manufacturing processes have been scientifically analysed and process requirements have been established at Union level,” the EU lawmakers emphasised.

Bertrand Vallet from EurEau, the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services hailed the vote, claiming that waste water operators have now the opportunity to “enter further into the Circular Economy by permitting some products coming from sewage sludge to be part of the regulation”.

Nitrates directive “independent”

One of the most controversial points in the discussion was the possible revision of the Nitrates Directive to exclude certain products from its restrictions.

The directive’s primary objective is to protect water quality by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters, setting certain use restrictions for manure in polluted areas, which includes a limit of 170kg nitrogen per hectare per year from livestock manure in water polluted areas.

This limit is essential for the protection of human health, water ecosystems and keeping the costs of drinking water provision at reasonable levels.

“We are also pleased that the Parliament decided not to amend the Nitrates Directive through the Fertiliser Regulation. One of our main objectives is to protect water resources for drinking water production, and the Nitrates Directive is a key instrument in reaching this,” said Vallet. “The Nitrate Directive and Fertiliser Regulation should be kept independent.”


The voting results were also welcomed by the biostimulants industry, which finally sees a clear definition of biostimulants and a demarcation from plant protection products.

Plant biostimulants can be sourced from renewable resources and industrial wastes like plant and seaweed extracts, amino acids and humic acids. They may also contain soil microorganisms.

Biostimulation is a complementary process to crop nutrition and crop protection, as it acts only on the plant’s vigour, and does not have any direct impact on pests or disease.

Biostimulants take centre stage in EU push for green fertilisers

The review of the European Union’s Fertilisers Regulation will promote innovative products such as biostimulants, in an effort to help agriculture take the turn of the circular economy.

Biostimulants basically encourage natural processes inside plants, like root development. In doing so, they help plants use nutrients and water more efficiently and enable them to become more resilient.

However, unlike other fertilising products, the biostimulant industry lacks EU-wide rules for market access and product approval.

The innovation-driven industry believes that with the introduction of safety criteria and harmonised standards, in particular for micro-organisms, the biostimulants industry will move a step closer to becoming a single European market.

Giuseppe Natale, president of the European Biostimulants Industry Council (EBIC) commented, “The IMCO committee has taken positive steps today in support of innovation and the creation of a single market for the biostimulants industry. However, our work is far from complete.”

Published in December 2015, the European Commission's Circular Economy Package, was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill.

It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was given a mandate from President Jean-Claude Juncker to cut red tape and deliver “better regulation”. Better regulation is an EU reform that the UK government has demanded.

He told MEPs in December that he would withdrawing and resubmitting the package, to make it "more ambitious".

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