Sewage sludge originates from the process of treatment of waste water. Due to the physical-chemical processes involved in the treatment, the sludge tends to concentrate heavy metals and poorly biodegradable trace organic compounds as well as potentially pathogenic organisms – viruses, bacteria etc. – present in waste water.
Sludge is, however, rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and contains valuable organic matter that is useful when soils are depleted or subject to erosion. The organic matter and nutrients are the two main elements that make the use of this kind of waste on agricultural land as fertiliser and organic soil improver suitable.
In June 1986 the Council adopted Directive 86/278/EEC on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture (OJ L 181, 4.7.86, p. 6).
The Directive aims at protecting the environment when sewage sludge is used in agriculture, seeks to encourage its use in agriculture and regulates it in such a way as to prevent harmful effects on soil, vegetation, animals and man.
In its Report to the Council and the European Parliament on the implementation of Community waste legislation (COM (1999) 752 final of 10.1.2000), the Commission stated that 'it is crucial that the legislative frame put in place at Community level for sludge management is effective in protecting the environment, and in particular the soil, from long term pollution'. It also stated that 'the Commission plans to undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions contained in the Directive. These provisions will be assessed in the light of the scientific research carried out since the adoption of the Directive. This review will aim at ensuring a high level of environmental protection'.
In order to fulfil these commitments, Environment DG has started to consult governmental experts from Member States, environmental NGOs, industry and stakeholders in general. The consultation has been carried out on a Working Document whose latest version dates from 27 April 2000.
It should be pointed out that this is a working document elaborated by Environment DG and which is meant for discussion. The working document does not engage in any way the Commission and does not prejudge any future legislative initiative by the Commission's services. It is not a legal text and should only be used for consultation purposes.