Making Sense of EU Regulations on Fertilizer

December 14, 2018 3:20 pm Published by


News is rippling around the world about changes to regulations for fertilizing products traded within the European Union (EU) single market. Just what is changing? When do the new regulations take effect? How are fertilizing products being impacted? These are just a few of the questions being asked!

What is the EU, CE, and Single Market?

To aid in understanding EU fertilizer regulations, let’s take a look at some background information. Among other things, the European Union is an organization of twenty-eight member countries who work together to create rules that promote free trade of products within what is known as the EU single market. To accomplish this, the EU is made up of seven decision making institutions. Of these seven, three are directly involved in creating regulations: the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. In layman’s terms, the Council decides the direction of the EU, the Commission takes those objectives and produces legislative proposals, and the Parliament either approves or rejects the proposals. If approved, the proposals becomes regulations for products to receive CE (circular economy) trademark. This trademark denotes that the product meets the EU standards to ensure safety, health, and environmental protection.

What Rules Govern CE Marked Fertilizing Products?

All CE fertilizing products are currently required to meet 2003 Fertilizer Regulation. However, this regulation was created prior to the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) which was issued by the European Commission in 2015. As a result of the CEAP, the Commission put forward a legislative proposal in March 2016 to address the need for new fertilizer regulations. The 2003 Fertilizer Regulation set standards for mineral and inorganic fertilizers but did not provide a framework for organic fertilizers and fertilizers utilizing waste streams.

What is the Status of the New Regulations?

Negotiations have been ongoing since 2016 between the EU Council, Commission, and Parliament, and a provisional agreement to a proposal for new regulations was reached in November 2018. This proposal must undergo several more steps to reach full approval by the EU Parliament.

What Does the Change Mean to Fertilizers?

When approved, the new regulation will replace the 2003 Fertilizer Regulation. However, much of the rules within the old regulation are found in the new. Many of the changes allow organic sources and waste streams to be converted to safe fertilizer products for sale in the EU single market. Some of the areas of interest in the proposal are listed below:

  • Regulation of levels of…
    • heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, , arsenic, copper, and zinc)
    • biuret, tightening the limits
    • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in digestat
    • impurities in compost and digestate (glass, metal, plastic)/li>
    • microbial contaminants (Salmonella, E. coli, Enterococcaceae, Listeria, Vibrio, and Shigella)/li>
    • Cadmium levels specific to phosphate fertilizers
  • Use of polymers in fertilizer and agriculture mulch
  • Green Label: contain less than 5 ppm of cadmium, arsenic, lead, chromium VI, and mercury


Polymer Regulations and Specialty Fertilizers

Traditionally, specialty fertilizers use polymers to control the release of nutrients. The EU provisional proposal includes regulations restricting the use of polymers and requiring biodegradability saying that “the polymer shall be capable of undergoing physical, biological decomposition, such that most of it ultimately decomposes into carbon dioxide (CO2), biomass, and water. It shall have at least 90% of the organic carbon converted into CO2 in maximum 48 months” in a biodegradability test (europarl). This new regulation is to be enforced five years after acceptance of the proposal.

What Does this Mean for the Fertilizer Market?

With the provisional proposal accepted by EU negotiators in November or 2018, change is eminent in the European Fertilizer Market. These changes include biodegradable coatings for Specialty Fertilizers. Time is of the essence to develop new polymer coatings and the processes to apply those coatings. Five years for implementation will require strategic planning since the tests for biodegradability have not been developed. Even a rapid test must be correlated to the residual polymers for a four year test and repeatability must be demonstrated.

Additionally, the implementation of stricter limits on heavy metals and biuret poses challenges, especially for the phosphate fertilizer market. This means that decadmination for phosphate fertilizer must be fast tracked. The proposed 60 mg/kg ceiling for cadmium is challenging, and this limit becomes even more restrictive in the future. Limited sources of phosphate meet the proposed 60 mg/kg cadmium limit, and current decadmination processes work for only part of these sources.

As the EU implements their new regulations and continues working toward a Circular Economy, change is expected to spread to nations outside the EU. Since change motivates innovation, the future promises new breakthroughs that can impact much more than fertilizer!

Corinne Hayes is a research specialist and scientist at Applied Chemical Technology (ACT).
ACT has worked with clients in the fertilizer industry since 1981 developing processes and engineering and building equipment for those processes. If you are interested in discussing a fertilizer development project with your company, contact us.