OPINION PIECE | It is more crucial than ever to retrieve high-value raw materials from waste – or rather, from what is considered waste with current regulations and legislation.
The circularity of resources is a key component of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, of an effective climate policy, or of any kind of credible waste management policy. Furthermore, materials that end up in landfills, or leak out into soil or water, contaminate our ecosystems and adversely affect biodiversity.
But moreover, the pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of our way of organizing society. EU is dependent on functioning international trade for several raw materials essential to our industry. The initiative European Raw Materials Alliance aims at increasing self-sufficiency and diversifying supply chains of critical resources. As a first step, this initiative focuses on rare earth metals and magnets. But this is not enough.
On the 4th of January 2021, Secretary-General Guterres of the United Nations put forth a statement connected to the upcoming UN Food Summit, where he specifically stressed the lack of circularity in the value chain of nutrients for food production. This lack of circularity results in the production of large amounts of energy-intensive synthetic fertilizers originating in virgin phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium – resources that are more than abundant in societal waste. Nitrogen and phosphorus are also a major problem polluting our waterways, lakes, and oceans, resulting in eutrophication.
New, innovative technologies can contribute to detoxifying and circulating these nutrients instead of wasting them, by extracting them from waste streams.
Concerning phosphorus, which is also classified as a Critical Raw Material (CRM) by the EU Commission, some of these processes of waste stream extraction can even deliver a phosphorus product purer than virgin materials. Its composition also makes it readily available for the fertilizer industry as well as showing clear potential for use in animal feed. In addition, the products are fit-for-purpose to increase nutrient use efficiency and reduce losses as required by the EU’s Farm-to-Fork Strategy.
Companies like ours are ready to invest in these technologies and see immense potential to reduce the need for imported phosphorus and dependence on mining.
In other words: there are real solutions available where the result is a detoxified product of the highest quality which could potentially make the EU more self-sufficient when it comes to essential nutrients for food production. This would increase our autonomy while decreasing the environmental and climate footprint as well as reducing waste and pollution.
The only missing piece of the puzzle is to show circular political ambition and then transform these into circular policies that create a functioning market for detoxified, pure, circular nutrients. Instead, the market for these products is currently restricted by EU regulations – regulations from the past discriminating products depending on origin and not quality!
It is now time to reverse this.
The Commission wants 2021 to be the year when the EU moves from strategy to action. Political incentives to support the use of high-quality circular nutrients should be one such action.
By implementing a mandatory, gradually increasing blending quota, reaching at least 5 % by 2030, for detoxified, recycled nutrient content in synthetic fertilizers, the EU would take the global lead in this development. It would not only support the ambition in the EU Green Deal but also boost industrial investments in circular solutions, create green jobs and strengthen European autonomy.
The issue is urgent, and the EU needs to act now.
Anna Lundbom, Marketing Manager at EasyMining
Christian Kabbe, General Manager at EasyMining Germany
Pär Larshans, Head of Sustainability & Public Affairs, Ragn-Sells Group