Biosolids in Europe

Evans, T.D., Tim Evans Environment, UK



This paper surveys the biosolids situation in Europe and aims to correct some of the myths and misinformation.   It reviews the legislation and the practices.  Overall 37% of biosolids are recycled to agriculture but the range for different Member States extends from more than 70% to 0.006%.  In some federal countries there is considerable variation between the internal States.  MS have also chosen a range of measures and limits when implementing of the European Union sludge use in agriculture directive.  There has been much discussion of revising this directive but revision is now regarded by the European Commission as having no priority.  For the future, biogas and phosphate recovery appear to be the areas of greatest interest.

Key words:

Biosolids, land application, landfill, legislation, incineration, phosphorus recovery, recycling


The European Union (EU) now comprises 27 independent countries with 23 official languages.  The combined population is 501 million people and the land area is 4.4 million km2 (1.7 million miles2).  Norway and Switzerland are not members.  Neither are the constituents of the former Yugoslavia but some are candidates to join along with Turkey and Iceland.

The Member States (MS) of the EU are required to enact EU Regulations and Directives into their own national legislations.  Regulations must be transposed verbatim but Directives are minimum requirements that MS can elaborate on if they wish (they can make them more stringent but not less).  The role of the European Environmental Protection Agency is data gathering, not enforcement.  Enforcement is the responsibility of each individual MS.  MS who fail to comply with EU policies can be tried by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and may be required to pay fines for as long as they are non-compliant.

The ECJ interprets EU law with the intention that it is applied in the same way in all MS. It also settles legal disputes between EU governments and EU institutions. Individuals, companies or organisations can also bring cases before the Court if they feel their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.

The European Commission (EC) is the civil service of the EU but with the added power that has the ‘right of initiative’ to propose new laws to protect the interests of the EU and its citizens.  It is one of the main institutions of the European Union.  It also manages the day-to-day business of implementing EU policies and spending EU funds.  The Commission’s political leadership is provided by the Commissioners, one from each MS. Each Commissioner has a 5-year term and is assigned responsibility for specific policy areas by the President of the European Commission.  The EC drafts proposals for new European legislation, which the European Parliament and the Council [of MS Ministers] of Europe debate, amend and approve or reject.  Drafting involves consultation in order to produce something that it hopes the Parliament and Council will accept.

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