From waste to innovative and greener #fertilizers

Innovative fertilizers produced from organic or recycled materials will have easier access to the EU single market, under draft rules put to the vote on Thursday (13 July).

Existing EU rules on fertilizers cover mainly conventional fertilizers, typically extracted from mines or produced chemically, with high energy-consumption and CO2 production. Diverging national rules make it difficult for producers of organic fertilisers to sell and use them across the EU single market.

The rules approved in the Internal Market Committee on Thursday would:

  • Promote increased use of recycled materials for producing fertilizers, thus helping the development of the circular economy, while reducing dependency on imported nutrients;
  • ease market access for innovative, organic fertilizers, which would give farmers and consumers a wider choice and promote green innovation;
  • establish EU-wide quality, safety and environmental criteria for ‘CE marked’ fertilizers (i.e. those which can be traded in the whole EU single market);
  • provide for clearer labelling requirements to better inform farmers and consumers,
  • keep the option for producers not willing to sell their products on the whole EU market to comply with national rules instead (member states would remain free to allow fertilizers not complying with these EU-wide requirements into their national markets).

Cadmium limits

The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, which covered the provisions on contaminants levels, agreed on 30 May on the limits for cadmium content in ‘CE marked’ phosphate fertilizers. These would be tightened from 60 mg/kg to 40 mg/kg after three years and to 20 mg/kg after nine years, instead of 12 as proposed by the Commission.

A review clause introduced by Internal Market MEPs requires the Commission to assess the application of restrictions on levels of contaminants, as well as the developments in decadmiation technologies, 42 months after the date of application of this regulation.

The Commission would also have to assess, within the same period, the impact on trade in raw material sourcing, including the availability of phosphate rock, and how the new rules impact the fertilising products market. 

Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (EPP, HU), Internal Market Committee rapporteur, said: “The main policy objective of my report is to incentivise large-scale plant nutrition production in the EU from domestic organic or secondary raw materials in line with the circular economy model, by transforming waste into nutrients for crops. The regulatory technique chosen in my proposal leaves economic operators maximum flexibility to put new products on the internal market without compromising on safety and quality”.

Next steps

The amended text was approved in the committee by 30 votes to three, with four abstentions. It is expected to be voted by the full House in the 2-5 October plenary session, before the start of negotiations with EU ministers. The Council (member states) has yet to agree on a position on this file.

Quick facts

Currently, only 5% of waste organic material is recycled and used as fertilizers, but recycled bio-waste could substitute up to 30% of mineral fertilizers.  The EU imports more than 6 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, but it could recover up to 2 million tonnes of phosphorus from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure, according to the Commission. Nearly half of the fertilizers on the EU market are not covered by the existing regulation.

‘CE marked’ fertilizers need to meet all the quality, safety and labelling requirements under EU rules and can be traded freely across the EU single market.

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