EU must get serious about promoting the circular economy

The fertilizer regulation was the first piece of legislation to be proposed as part of the EU’s circular economy package.

Ever since the first ammonia was produced as a by-product of city-gas almost 150 years ago, the idea of circularity and the use of by-products from one production process as raw materials for the next has continued.

Today, it is embedded in modern fertilizer production and reflected in technical standards. Furthermore, the mineral fertilizer industry is at the centre of several important value chains.


For example, we take sulphur from oil and gas refineries and use it to produce essential sulphur containing fertilizers or to use as the basis for the production of phosphate fertilizers. By-products are not used for the sake of it, but because they contribute to the quality and agronomic efficiency of the final fertilizer product.

However, the European Commission’s proposal forgot just how integrated and circular modern mineral fertilizer production already is, and excluded the use of by-products as a component of CE-marked fertilizing products. This was obviously an oversight, but a serious one that must be corrected now in the final stages of negotiations without creating a lot of bureaucracy for producers and public authorities.

Earlier this month, we organised a seminar on symbiosis and circular economy in the fertilizer sector, focusing on by-product use as illustrated by three real cases. The room was overflowing with participants, proving that a seemingly technical concept such as ‘by-product use’ can rival other issues in terms of interest, because it is about getting the circular economy right in practice.

Fortunately, a broad majority in the European Parliament recognises that the use of by-products as a component of fertilizing products must be allowed. It would be absurd if the EU had to create new rules for everything it wants to regulate. EU regulations can also be re-used and recycled.

The European Parliament in its report drafted by Romanian MEP Mihai Ţurcanu is proposing an elegant solution, which in itself is circular in terms of use of European procedure. The Parliament suggests allowing the use of by-products on the condition that those by-products are compliant with REACH chemicals obligations.

Chemical products registered via REACH are safe and should be allowed to be used straight away. Such a move would ensure that fertilizer manufacturers have an effective and non-bureaucratic path to obtaining a CE-mark for their products.

The Council is still making up its mind on how best to include by-products. As a result, the Parliament is in a strong position during the current trilogue negotiations. Hopefully, MEPs can negotiate a good deal on by-products, proving that the Parliament is the real champion of Europe’s circular economy.


About the author

Jacob Hansen is Director General of Fertilizers Europe



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