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EU regulation to boost use of organic and waste-based fertiliser

The European Commission has proposed regulations to make it easier to sell organic and waste-based fertilisers across the EU as part of its circular economy package.22 Mar 2016

EU rules on the free movement of goods do not apply to some types of fertiliser, with organic and waste-based fertilisers subject to divergent national rules across EU countries. At the moment only conventional fertilisers that are typically extracted from mines or produced chemically can be traded freely across the EU.

To address this, the Commission has proposed regulations. which cover the conversion of bio-waste into raw materials that can be used to manufacture fertilising products. The regulations define safety, quality and labelling requirements for fertilising products to be traded freely across the EU, the Commission said.

Producers who demonstrate that their products meet those requirements, as well as limits for organic contaminants, microbial contaminants and physical impurities will be able to label them with a 'circular economy' or CE mark, the Commission said.  

The regulation is the first from the Commission's circular economy package, adopted in December 2015.

A circular economy is one where businesses and individuals try to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them and recovering and reusing them as far as is possible. The previously relied on linear model, often described as "take-make-dispose" is generally agreed to be no longer sustainable.

The new rules will apply to all types of fertilisers, and introduce strict limits for cadmium in phosphate fertilisers. The limits will be tightened from 60 mg/kg to 40 mg/kg after three years and to 20 mg/kg after 12 years, reducing health and environmental risks, the statement said.

As some fertilising products are not produced or traded cross-border in large quantities, the Commission is proposing optional harmonisation: depending on their business strategy and type of product, manufacturers can either choose to CE mark their product, making it freely tradable in the single market according to common EU rules, or have it traded according to national standards based on mutual recognition in the single market, the Commission said.

"The market opportunities for companies producing organic fertiliser products are significant," the Commission said. "Today only 5% of bio-waste is recycled. According to estimates, if more bio-waste was recycled, it could replace up to 30% of non-organic fertilisers. Currently, the EU imports around 6 million tonnes of phosphates a year but could replace up to 30% of this total by extraction from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure."

Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen said: "Very few of the abundant bio-waste resources are transformed into valuable fertilising products. Our farmers are using fertilisers manufactured from imported resources or from energy-intensive processes although our industry could valorise these bio-wastes in recycled nutrients. This regulation will help us turn problems into opportunities for farmers and businesses."

Environmental law expert Georgie Messent of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "Recovering and reusing fertilisers is another great example of the use of the circular economy to reduce our waste. The new regulation should encourage free movement of organic and waste-based fertilisers and encourage their reuse, so it is a welcome change. Companies will however need to be very careful to ensure that they draft accurate safety, quality and labelling information for their fertilising products."