Europe Continues to Move Nutrient Policies Forward

By Chris Thornton, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform

Chris Thornton

The 3rd European Sustainable Phosphorus Conference (ESPC3) brought together 300 companies, policy makers and experts in Helsinki, June 2018. New EU policies announced include the obligation for farmers to implement nutrient budgets, the new EU Fertilisers Regulation and the draft Water Reuse Regulation. The ambitious new Fertilisers Regulation, currently under finalisation and part of the EU Circular Economy package, will fix quality and safety criteria for placing on the market recycled nutrient products including composts, digestates, organic fertilisers and soil improvers, recovered phosphate salts, biochars and ash-based products. The Water Use Regulation will fix quality and safety criteria for use of treated sewage discharge water for agricultural irrigation / fertigation.

Companies presented success stories showing that nutrient recycling is already operational through different routes including animal by-product incineration ashes, sewage biosolids, struvite, spent fire extinguisher chemical recycling, forestry and bio-energy by-products, gypsum and nitrogen recovery from digestate. Discussions confirmed the need for data, risk assessment science and dialogue around acceptance of recycled nutrient materials, both organic materials and technical recovered nutrients. The positive marketing message of nutrient and organic carbon recycling needs to be developed, alongside labelling and product traceability, in order to support acceptance of nutrient recycling in food and beverage industry and supermarket purchasing and sustainability criteria.

Despite considerable investments already made in waste water treatment, phosphorus continues to be one of the biggest challenges to water quality across Europe. Tighter sewage works phosphorus discharge consents are expected. New technologies combining phosphorus removal with recovery for recycling are being proposed. Approaches to remove nutrients from water bodies and sediments will be needed to restore eutrophication impacted waters, such as the Baltic Sea, with development of both restoration technologies and biological systems (such as harvesting of zooplankton consuming fish). Again, success will depend on product commercialisation, such as developing new recipes for such often not consumed fish.

The conference was organised by BSAG (Baltic Sea Action Group) and ESPP (European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform). Full conference summary in the ESPP SCOPE Newsletter n°127 ( and short article at

Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance.