The European Union should discover all avenues to enhance the effectivity of fertilisers and shut the nutrient loop – together with using human waste as fertilisers, a prime nitrogen professional informed EURACTIV.
Fertilisers have taken centre stage within the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the energy-intensive sector hit with a double whammy of hovering vitality costs, whereas sanctions levied in opposition to Belarus have resulted in a scarcity of potash, a key fertiliser enter.
The disruption has seen the European Fee put ahead a fertilisers communication with a lot of measures designed to compensate for this – however based on Wim de Vries, professor within the self-discipline of environmental techniques evaluation at Wageningen College, there’s one avenue that the plans haven’t explored.
“We now have to take a look at excretion of animals and compost of vegetation – but in addition excretion of human waste,” the professor stated, stating that human waste has the added bonus of a number of important micronutrients, comparable to zinc and copper.
Human waste is used as fertiliser in lots of areas of the world. Nevertheless, it’s at present solely permitted in some EU international locations – one thing de Vries sees as a missed alternative within the EU’s plans to shut the nutrient loop.
Whereas the professor acknowledged that technological or well being issues stay obstacles to recycling human excreta on this method, he stated efforts must be made to beat these.
“EU international locations ought to actually work in direction of discovering methods to see sewage utilized on fields,” he stated, stressing that this feature must be critically thought-about by the Fee.
Criticism ‘overly simplistic’
The fertiliser disaster, and subsequent makes an attempt to beat it, have sparked fears from inexperienced teams that shorter-term measures are being prioritised over longer-term motion.
However for de Vries, this evaluation is simply too simplistic.
“I see [the communication] making the linkages to an pressing disaster versus a long-term imaginative and prescient,” he informed EURACTIV, including that, whereas there’s clearly an emphasis on meals insecurity within the communication, that is comprehensible given the present meals disaster.
As such, de Vries stated he can’t agree that the communication has targeted on short-term measures that can make nitrogen air pollution worse, as claimed by inexperienced teams. He added that he sees clear linkages to the upcoming built-in nutrient administration motion plan (INMAP) within the communication’s emphasis on recycling vitamins.
The INMAP goals to ship on the EU Inexperienced Deal’s targets to scale back nutrient losses by at the very least 50% and fertiliser use by at the very least 20% by 2030 in Europe and can complement the Zero Air pollution Motion Plan.
For de Vries, the upcoming INAMP is a vital alternative to take a holistic strategy to nutrient flows and losses.
Likening nutrient losses to a leaky pipe with many holes, the professor defined it is because it’s “no good to place your finger simply on a kind of holes”.
“If you don’t cut back the enter, it’s popping out of one other gap,” he warned.
Moreover exploring all accessible avenues for various sourcing of vitamins, the professor additionally confused the necessity to focus must be on growing the effectivity of fertilisers.
This consists of each maximising the potential of the fertilisers themselves, in addition to of breeding programmes to enhance crops’ capability to take up fertilisers.
A method to do that is thru the remedy and transformation of animal manure by way of a course of generally known as REcovered Nitrogen from manURE (RENURE), which has been championed by EU member states.
For EU farmers, guidelines must be eased to permit using extra recovered vitamins from manure – however inexperienced teams warn it must be given no particular dispensation, on condition that the properties are “largely the identical”.
“What I’d watch out with is that nutrient extraction from manure – from intensive livestock farms – doesn’t grow to be a greenwashing train and supply incentives to proceed this follow,” Sara Johansson, a senior coverage officer on the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) informed EURACTIV.
As such, the NGO isn’t in favour of any derogations.
Furthermore, the group raised issues that the promotion of the restoration of vitamins from manure would allow the transport of vitamins from livestock-rich to livestock-poor areas.
Requested about these issues, de Vries, who has devoted the previous 40 years to researching the subject, slammed critics for being “faraway from actuality”.
“The issue is all the time how small is the gap if we are saying round,” he stated.
De Vries identified that on the nationwide degree, whereas the density of livestock could be an excessive amount of in locations such because the Netherlands, this drawback is resolved by taking a regional strategy whereby the Netherlands is taken into account along with neighbouring Belgium and France.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]