Sustainable handling of sewage sludge in the Baltic Sea region

ein gelb blühendes Rapsfeld, im Hintergrund das Meer mit SegelbootenClick to enlarge
Too much nutrients out of agriculture get into the Baltic Sea.
Source: Petra Nowack - peno /

The “Recommendation on sewage sludge handling” as part of the Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area entered into force in March 2017. It defines the principles for the sustainable handling of sewage sludge in the Baltic Sea region.

Germany and Sweden have been taking the lead in drawing up “Recommendation 38/1 on sewage sludge handling” with the participation of the UBA since 2012. All the Helsinki Convention’s contracting parties agreed to it at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission’s (HELCOM) annual meeting in March 2017.

The recommendation’s main objectives are

  • The targeted recycling of nutrients contained in sludge, specifically phosphorus,
  • The sustainable use of sewage sludge for agriculture and energy and
  • The reduction in the emissions and leakage of pathogenic substances and substances harmful to the environment from sewage sludge into the environment.

Besides measures for the handling and use of sewage sludge, it also presents limits on the amount of sewage sludge for fertilising purposes and encourages the further development of cost-efficient solutions and sharing of knowledge within the region. The convention’s contracting parties have to regularly report on the handling of sewage sludge, its quality and the phosphorus recovered in future as part of the recommendations.

The Julius Kühn Institute and HELCOM  organised a “Workshop on nutrient recycling” in the Baltic Sea region in Berlin at the end of March 2017. The aim was to develop suggestions for HELCOM to promote the recycling of nutrients from sewage sludge and fertilisers at the same time as avoiding the leakage of pollutants into the region to protect the Baltic Sea. The individual member states presented their strategies in talks.

This showed that it is necessary to collect information about the nutrient cycles and recycling strategies, to identify agricultural regions with higher need for management in terms of excess nutrients, to encourage the exchange of knowledge and to establish regional and national programmes. The “Recommendation on sewage sludge handling” was called an important foundation stone in the process. It is considered appropriate to produce a “HELCOM overview on nutrient recycling in the Baltic Sea countries” to support these efforts.