European water utility body critical of sludge exclusion from fertiliser proposals

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Arne Haarr, chair of the working group on waste water resoures of European water operator represenative body EurEau, has criticised the European Commission’s proposed revision of the Fertiliser Regulation for neglecting to include sewage sludge as a source of recyclable nutrients.

He calls this a ‘gross omission on the Commission’s behalf’, adding: ‘The explicit exclusion of sewage sludge as an input material for fertilisers means that we are missing a potent source of useful nutrients. The Commission needs to describe the quality criteria of the final product, without limiting the input material.’

Mr Haarr questions the EC’s ability to meet the target of recycling 30% of phosphorus without considering sewage sludge as an input material.

In a blog on the EurEau website, he notes: ‘Adding sewage sludge as a component of compost and digestate will help to increase not only the phosphorus supply in Europe but also the other “positive elements” such as organic carbon, nitrogen, micronutrients and structure to the soil, the lack of which is responsible for the low fertility of European soils today.’

He adds that there is ‘no valid reason’ for the exclusion of sewage sludge, stressing the improvement of sewage sludge quality over recent years thanks to the Sewage Sludge Directive and the REACH chemicals registration regulation.

He warns: ‘Excluding all sewage sludge is not only severely limiting the possibility of recycling an important source of nutrients and organic matter for EU traded fertilisers, it might naturally and dangerously drive sludge management towards solutions like incineration that are very expensive.’

He concludes that the EC is ‘missing a golden opportunity’ by excluding sewage sludge as an input material for fertilisers, saying that its inclusion ‘would provide an important source of nutrients and contribute to the circular economy while reducing costs and dependencies on imports. We urge the EU institutions to reconsider.’


  • Europe, municipal wastewater, resource recovery, phosphates