Inquiry to propose ban on spreading sewage sludge on farmland and a phosphorus recycling requirement

As part of efforts to ensure toxin-free and resource-efficient ecocycles, the Government has decided to appoint an inquiry to propose a ban on spreading sewage sludge and introduce a requirement for phosphorus to be recycled from sewage sludge. The Government has appointed Gunnar Holmgren as Inquiry Chair.

Phosphorus is a vital plant nutrient. Sewage sludge is sometimes used as agricultural plant food because it contains large quantities of phosphorus. This is also a way for sewage treatment plants to get rid of their large quantities of waste. Since sewage sludge – which is a kind of waste – contains substances that are hazardous to the environment and human health, only around 30 per cent can be spread on agricultural land. The rest is used without utilising the nutrients it contains, for example in soil manufacturing or as landfill cover.

The Government wants to create the conditions for a circular economy, in which waste is treated as a resource. The aim of the inquiry is to ensure that phosphorus is recycled from sewage sludge in a non-toxic and safe manner and can be used to a greater extent in agriculture.

"It is important that we use our resources responsibly. Phosphorus is a valuable resource, and as such we should use the technologies available to utilise it," says Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog.

Phosphorus is an important component of mineral fertilisers, and at present it is mined abroad and imported to Sweden. Making better use of the phosphorus in sewage sludge will help increase Sweden's self-sufficiency.

The inquiry is expected to produce proposals for a requirement to recycle phosphorus from sewage sludge. However, since sewage sludge also contains substances that are hazardous to the environment and human health, pharmaceutical residues and microplastics, the inquiry is also expected to propose a ban on spreading sewage sludge on agricultural land.

"Reports show that in addition to metals that are hazardous to the environment and human health, sewage sludge also contains some microplastics. A ban on fertilisation using sewage sludge will reduce the risk of microplastics entering the environment in which our food is grown," says Ms Skog.

A ban on spreading sewage sludge should not be an obstacle to the production of biogas. The aim is for both energy and phosphorus to be extracted from sewage sludge without any risk of emitting substances that are hazardous to the environment or human health into the environment.

The Government has appointed Gunnar Holmgren as Inquiry Chair. Mr Holmgren has formerly been Governor of Västernorrland County and Director-General of the Defence Materiel Administration. He holds a PhD in economics and has extensive experience of leading government inquiries.

Contact

Jakob Lundgren
Press Secretary to Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog
Phone (switchboard) +46 8 405 10 00
Mobile +46 (0) 72 206 08 92
email to Jakob Lundgren, via senior registry clerk