As part of my analysis on investment opportunities in the waste sector, I wanted to make the reader aware of a big shift in Germany’s waste industry (information that has been made publicly available by the German government in a study titled “Sewage Sludge Disposal in the Federal Republic of Germany“, dating from February 2019. The Federal Republic of Germany has decided that with the Sewage Sludge Ordinance sewage sludge should no longer go into agriculture in future, and is preferably used in thermal recycling to recover phosphorus. The government study elaborates on this. From the year 2029 no sewage sludge would be thrown away. The appeal of it is that it allows phosphorus to be extracted from the sludge-containing material.
Phosphorus is one of those resources that will become less available as a natural resource, but which is essential for plant growth and without it our current level of agricultural production would be unthinkable. The only significant producer of phosphorus is Morocco where phosphorus is mined in Western Sahara. As time passes, the quality of phosphorus extract decreases, and the rock extracted from the earth contains more uranium which finds its way into European agriculture. So there is a strong incentive to find alternatives to phosphorus mining, and reduce Europe’s dependance on phosphorus deposits in Morocco.
Germany seems to be a forerunner when it comes to recognizing the potential damage that sewage sludge has on human health if used in agriculture, but in November 2018 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized that there are some serious flaws in monitoring and controlling the usage of sewage sludge in the U.S.
The many possible uses of sewage sludge and its recovery potential.
There are many possibilities to reuse the sewage sludge and to extract valuable raw material from it. In the following video of the YouTube channel AnaerobicDigestion these possibilities are explained in more detail:
Andrea Roskosch, Patric Heidecke (2019), Sewage Sludge Disposal in the Federal Republic of Germany, viewed 20 08 2019, <https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/en/publikationen/sewage-sludge-disposal-in-the-federal-republic-of>.
Office of Inspector General (2018), Report No. 19-P-0002, EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment, viewed 18 01 2019, <https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-11/documents/_epaoig_20181115-19-p-0002.pdf>.