EU Evaluation Roadmap | Sewage Sludge Directive 86/278/EEC

Your substances



Context - The Sewage Sludge Directive 86/278/EEC (henceforth the SSD or the Directive) was adopted to encourage the correct use of sewage sludge in agriculture and to regulate its use in order to prevent harmful effects on soil, vegetation, animals and humans. The principal benefit of the SSD is its role in the protection of human health and the environment against the harmful effects of contaminated sludge in agriculture. To this end, it prohibits the use of untreated sludge on agricultural land unless it is injected or incorporated into the soil. The Directive also requires that sludge be used in such a way that account is taken of the nutrient requirements of plants and that the quality of the soil and of surface and groundwater is not impaired.

The Directive complements EU waste legislation by encouraging the safe use of sludge (moving it up the waste hierarchy), by promoting health and environmental protection (by placing limits on heavy metals), and by contributing to resource efficiency (through the recovery of useful nutrients such as phosphorus).

The use of sludge in agriculture is an effective alternative for chemical fertilisers, especially phosphorus fertilisers. The importance of recycling of materials, in line with circular economy principles, is highlighted as a priority area under the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). Transformation of the industry and all the value chains is required for Europe to be less dependent on the extraction of raw materials. However, it is important that what is used as a resource is not contaminated, otherwise recycling will result in increasing pollution of soil, water and/or air. This is also in line with the Commission's zero pollution ambition announced in the European Green Deal (a strategy is expected in 2021).

In 2014, the Directive was evaluated as part of an "Ex-post evaluation of certain waste stream directives" and the evaluation identified a number of shortcomings, which were largely related to the fact that the Directive was adopted 30 years earlier and it did not fully match the contemporary needs and expectations. The identified issues concerned the SSD contribution to the EU circular economy ambitions, pollutants in sludge including contaminants of emerging concern (e.g. organic chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, PAH and PFAS, cosmetics and microplastics), the potential need to regulate other uses of (treated) sewage sludge, and the potential impact of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 91/271/EEC (UWWTD).  

Since then, there have been scientific progress and technological developments as well as changes in the policy landscape resulting from the first and second CEAP, the Bioeconomy Strategy, the new Fertilising Products Regulation, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the recently evaluated UWWTD. Therefore, the results of 2014 evaluation need to be validated and complemented, so as to inform the Commission’s decision on the need to revise the SSD, as outlined in the New Circular Economy Action Plan adopted on 11 March 2020. An evaluation of the SSD as a stand-alone instrument, not as a part of the whole waste stream framework, will also allow for a deeper assessment of issues specific to the SSD.

Purpose and scope - Continue reading: PI_COM:Ares(2020)3116544: Evaluation of the Sewage Sludge Directive 86/278/EEC


Related News