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Fertilizing Europe’s Circular Economy

Productive fields in Altenhasungen, Hesse, Germany, June 18, 2008 (Photo by Evelyn Berg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Productive fields in Altenhasungen, Hesse, Germany, June 18, 2008 (Photo by Evelyn Berg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 13, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Negotiators from the European Parliament, Council and Commission have just reached political agreement on new EU rules for fertilizers proposed by the Commission in 2016 as a key deliverable of the Circular Economy Package.

The Package consists of a 2015 EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete and ambitious program of action, with measures covering the whole cycle – from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials and a revised legislative proposal on waste.

The proposals will contribute to “closing the loop”of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy, the Commission said in a statement.

The new rules will facilitate opening the EU Single Market to organic and waste-based fertilizers.

The agreement also introduces limits for cadmium and other contaminants in phosphate fertilizers. This is intended to help reduce waste, energy consumption and environmental damage, as well as limit the risks to human health.

Jyrki Katainen, vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said, “Unlike traditional fertilizers which are highly energy intensive and rely on scarce natural resources, bio-waste fertilizers have the potential to make farming more sustainable.”

“These new rules will also help to create a new market for reused raw materials in line with our efforts to build a circular economy in Europe,” said Katainen.

Spreading fertilizer, Bergen, The Netherlands, March 21, 2009 (Photo by Jon Anderson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Spreading fertilizer, Bergen, The Netherlands, March 21, 2009 (Photo by Jon Anderson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Under the 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission called for a revision of the EU regulation on fertilizers to facilitate the EU-wide recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers.

The sustainable use of fertilizers made from organic waste material in agriculture could reduce the need for mineral-based fertilizers, the production of which has negative environmental impacts, and depends on imports of phosphate rock, a limited resource.

Under current rules, only conventional, non-organic fertilizers, typically extracted from mines or produced chemically, can freely be traded across the EU. Innovative fertilizing products produced from organic materials are outside the scope of the current fertilizers Regulation.

Their access to the EU Single Market is therefore dependent on mutual recognition between Member States, which can be difficult due to diverging national rules. Such products have a competitive disadvantage which hampers innovation and investment in the circular economy.

The Commission points to estimates that show if more bio-waste was recycled, it could replace up to 30 percent of non-organic fertilizers.

Currently, the EU imports around six million tonnes of phosphates a year but could replace up to 30 percent of this total by extraction from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said, “The new EU rules will open up new market opportunities for innovative companies producing organic fertilizers and create new local jobs, provide wider choice for our farmers and protect our soils and food. At the same time we are also making sure that our European industry will be able to adapt to the proposed changes.”

Mineral fertilizer is defined by a set of numbers with hyphens describing the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the NPK ratio. 15-15-15 fertilizer is a fertilizer that contains equal parts of each element. November 1, 2012 (Photo by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Mineral fertilizer is defined by a set of numbers with hyphens describing the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the NPK ratio. 15-15-15 fertilizer is a fertilizer that contains equal parts of each element. November 1, 2012 (Photo by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

The agreement on the Fertilizing Products Regulation will open the market for new and innovative organic fertilizers by defining the conditions under which these can access the EU Single Market.

The Regulation will provide common rules on safety, quality and labelling requirements for all fertilizers to be traded freely across the EU.

Producers will need to demonstrate that their products meet those requirements before affixing the CE mark, a certification symbol that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area.

The Regulation for the first time introduces limits on toxic contaminants, including a new 60 mg/kg limit for cadmium which will be further reviewed four years after the date of application.

This is intended to guarantee a high level of soil protection and reduce health and environmental risks, while allowing producers to adapt their manufacturing process to comply with the new limits.

To encourage the use of even safer fertilizers, producers will also be able to use a low-cadmium label applicable to products with less than 20mg/kg cadmium content. These rules will affect those fertilizers that choose to affix CE marking.

A manufacturer who does not wish to CE-mark the product can choose to comply with national standards and sell the product to other EU countries based on the principle of mutual recognition.

On November 21 the industry group Fertilizers Europe released its Vision report defining the pathway for the evolution of the European mineral fertilizer industry to 2030.

The report, “Feeding Life 2030: The European Fertilizers Industry at the Crossroads between Nutrition and Energy,” lays forth a long-term vision for the industry.

The report aims at answering a key question – how to meet future food needs of a growing population in a more energy and environmentally efficient way, while at the same time meeting growing demand for clean energy and better use of resources.

Jacob Hansen, director general of Fertilizers Europe, said, “Under the right legislative framework, the fertilizer industry could play a vital role in the context of the EU’s ambition to lead sustainable agricultural production and to maintain a strong industrial base while at the same time shifting towards decarbonized economy.”

From the industry’s perspective, mineral fertilizers perform a fundamental role, feeding almost half of the global population. While globally undernourishment remains a major issue, Europe’s efforts are increasingly focused on enhancing the sustainability of agricultural practices.

“Digitalization of agriculture, new fertilizing products and better advice offers the prospect of meeting future food needs more sustainably. Applying more knowledge per hectare is what will drive the improvements in the fertilizer industry and in the entire agricultural sector,” said Hansen.

Feeding Life 2030 points out that the mineral fertilizer industry is a highly competitive global industry. “Large amounts of fertilizers are traded between continents and competition between producers is fierce. Policy-makers need therefore to pay attention to the competitive situation of the European industry,” for positive development to take place, the report states.

“Our Vision for the evolution of fertilizer industry is very ambitious. In order to deliver on its Vision, we call for a policy framework that supports farmers in optimizing the use of fertilizers, as well as enables the industry to continue to excel in the production of fertilizers while retaining its international competitiveness.”

The preliminary political agreement reached Wednesday by the European Parliament, Council and Commission, in so-called trialogue negotiations, has been confirmed by the Member States’ representatives and is now subject to formal approval by the European Parliament and Council.

Once approved, the Regulation will be directly applicable in all Member States and will become mandatory in 2022.              


Maxtraining

What Rubbish! Europe’s New Waste Rules

Tagged wheelie bins in London, England, July 16, 2017. (Photo by Tee Cee) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Tagged wheelie bins in London, England, July 16, 2017. (Photo by Tee Cee) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

STRASBOURG, France, May 1, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The European Parliament has formally approved higher recycling targets and new measures to reduce waste across Europe.

Environment ministers from all 28 EU countries are expected to approve the agreement in the coming weeks. Their approval must be secured before the new laws can officially be transposed into national legislation within 24 months from that moment.

The Parliament’s vote comes four months after the same laws and targets were agreed by the European Commission, Parliament and EU governments.

Under the new measures, EU countries will be required to recycle at least 55 percent of their municipal waste by 2025, 60 percent by 2030 and 65 percent by 2035.

Other approved measures include a 10 percent cap on landfills by 2035, mandatory separate collection of biowaste and stricter schemes to make producers pay for the collection of key recyclables.

Recommendations include economic incentives for reuse, deposit-return schemes, food donations and the phase out of subsidies that promote waste.

In addition to the separate collection which already exists for paper and cardboard, glass, metals and plastic, new provisions for separate collection, including of bio-waste, will boost the quality of secondary raw materials and their uptake.

Hazardous household waste will have to be collected separately by 2022, biowaste by 2023 and textiles by 2025.

“After lengthy negotiations with the Council, we have succeeded in bringing home a great result that lays new foundations for sustainable European economic and social development,” said lead MEP Simona Bonafè of Italy, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

“Member states will be obliged to follow clear and common measures on the life cycle of raw materials and waste disposal,” she said.

“The package, in line with the United Nations’ sustainable development objectives, also reduces food waste by 50 percent and aims for a 65 percent recycling threshold by all member states. A battle that will make the economy of the Old Continent one of the most virtuous in the world,” Bonafè added.

The new package of laws and targets is a key element of the Circular Economy Action Plan the European Commission adopted in December 2015.

Environmentalists wanted the agreement to do more, but they say now it’s time to activate the new measures.

Said Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, a coalition of more than 140 environmental groups, “Cities across Europe have already made steps forward to reduce waste and improve recycling. The new laws could have been more ambitious, but their successful implementation will help governments consolidate this progress with benefits for the people and society as a whole.”

“After years of discussions, it is now time for EU countries to walk the talk on waste reduction,” said Barczak. “These laws are necessary to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues such as pollution in our cities and environment.”

The Dublin Waste-to-Energy Plant, locally referred to as the Poolbeg Incinerator, is a waste-to-energy plant serving the Greater Dublin Area. The facility was designed to process 600,000 tonnes of waste per year and produce 60 megawatts of electricity every year, enough to heat 80,000 homes. The plant took its first delivery of waste on April 24, 2017. (Photo by William Murphy) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The Dublin Waste-to-Energy Plant, locally referred to as the Poolbeg Incinerator, is a waste-to-energy plant serving the Greater Dublin Area. The facility was designed to process 600,000 tonnes of waste per year and produce 60 megawatts of electricity every year, enough to heat 80,000 homes. The plant took its first delivery of waste on April 24, 2017. (Photo by William Murphy) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Weaker Waste Incineration Rules

A three-year process to update EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants could be about to lead to new rules that most currently operating facilities already comply with.

The latest draft even weakens some key protections compared to existing guidelines, reveals a report published April 18.

The EEB report, “A Wasted Opportunity? EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants under review” also contains a scorecard revealing the position taken by national government representatives during the drafting process.

While the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Belgium are commended for their efforts to raise standards, Germany, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic are condemned for their efforts to weaken the new rules.

EEB technical expert Aliki Kriekouki, who has taken part in working group meetings that provided advice to those drafting the rules, said, “People in Europe expect the EU to have the world’s best environmental standards, yet after three years of work to update the rules for waste incineration, we’re stuck with a proposal that makes some progress but falls short of boosting the deployment of effective, readily available technologies that prevent or minimise harmful pollution.”

More than 80 million tons of waste is burned in Europe every year, which campaigners warn is incompatible with the aim of moving to a circular economy, where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled.

“For air pollution, maximum emissions levels have largely remained unchanged, with the levels of some critical pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and mercury being raised compared to the existing guidance. Sadly, especially for people living near these plants, it’s a clear cut case of one step forward, two steps back,” said Kriekouki.

Waste incineration plants are responsible for toxic emissions of health-harming substances including dioxins, heavy metals and particulate matter known to cause respiratory diseases, cancers, immune system damage and reproductive and developmental problems.

The EEB report calls for a tightening of levels for the emissions of key pollutants to air and water. It demands that current flexibilities be removed and that exceptions be tightened or erased. It also recommends that certain techniques be made compulsory and that the requirements to monitor harmful emissions be strengthened.

The EU sets minimum binding standards for industry as part of the Industrial Emissions Directive. Standards documents are known as BREFs. Along with industry and Member State representatives the EEB takes part in a consultation process that informs the European Commission while drafting these standards.

The current draft proposals for an updated Waste Incineration BREF to replace the last one adopted in 2006 have been under development for almost three years and will likely not need to be complied with until 2024.

This agreement further strengthens the “waste hierarchy” by placing prevention, re-use and recycling clearly above landfilling and incineration.

MEPs say managing waste in a more efficient manner is the first step towards a circular economy, where most if not all products and materials are recycled or repeatedly re-used.