The BBC radio 4 programme, Farming Today says that farmers are using increasing amounts of human waste to fertilise their crops, as the cost of conventional fertiliser – which is closely linked to the price of oil – has shot up over the past year.
Water companies are trying to get rid of their treated sewage as they are no longer allowed to dump it into the sea. The farmers are taking all they can get. This practice is regulated under the The Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989.
China and Japan have long traditions of re-using human waste as fertilizer. In England, as recently as the 19th century, “nightmen” would take human waste from backyards to sell to farmers.
Approximately 1.3M tonnes of sewage sludge (dry solids) was produced in 2006. The processes used for treating domestic effluent in septic tanks also produce an organic sludge. For both, the options for use or disposal are mostly restricted to treatment, followed by either:
• use as a soil conditioner (biosolids)
Defra and UK Water Industry Research carried out what are referred to as the long-term sludge experiments, from 1994 to 2005, examine the effects of heavy metals from sewage sludge on soil micro-organisms. The Environment Agency has the following roles;
- enforce the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1998
- inspect water companies sludge registers every year
- carry out farm inspections to make sure the sludge is being applied in accordance with the regulations and with the Code of Practice for the Agricultural Use of Sewage Sludge
So, you see it’s well controlled and smart use of your personal resource. Next time you plop a potato onto your dinner plate be proud of that personal contribution you’ve made to UK farming today.