Climate change, protecting our water resources and ensuring the sustainability of food production require a shift to a system in which nutrients circulate. Over the past three years, the Key Government Project promoting the circular economy has invested more than EUR 30 million in water protection and nutrient recycling. Has Finland reached its goal of becoming a model country for nutrient and energy self-sufficiency?
The work initiated during the Key Projects is still ongoing, but we have clearly made progress in the shift towards a more sustainable food system, bioeconomy and circular economy. Many materials previously considered waste have seen an increase in value. Over the past few years, we have become more aware of the limited supply of mineral phosphorus and the greenhouse gas emissions generated by nitrogenous fertilisers.
Culture of experimenting leads to long-term business investments
According to an external evaluation carried out last year, the Key Projects have improved Finland’s nutrient-recycling knowhow and led to increased cooperation between businesses and research. The steps taken as a result of the Key Project on circular economy have a profound impact on all Finns in the form of clean food and water.
“Businesses have developed new methods for recovering manure, municipal wastewater and industry by-products and have turned the by-products into recycled fertilisers, animal feed, bedding and energy. Experiments have identified promising solutions that will continue to be developed even after the Key Project is complete,” says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.
The goal is to use nutrient recycling to bring nutrients back to the fields that can best utilise them in the form of safe recycled fertilisers. Another project in the works is a quality management system for recycled fertilisers, which will help bring new fertiliser products to the market.
“Utilising all available nutrient streams is in line with the principles of sustainable development,” says Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing Kimmo Tiilikainen. “Municipalities have made resource-wise choices by developing residential areas based on circular economy solutions. Recovering the valuable nutrients in wastewater must become common practice,” Tiilikainen continues.
Profitability and sustainability through closed loops
Various parts of the country have seen the development of closed loops, or agroecological symbioses, made up of local farms, food processors and bioenergy producers. In these networks, one operator’s waste is another’s raw material. Manure and other by-products are used to produce biogas, for example.
“Symbiosis brings profitability to farming and leads to increased local self-sufficiency, as the need to purchase outside energy and fertiliser decreases. It can even lead to better harvests,” Minister Leppä says. “Increased cooperation also brings improved social sustainability within the limits of the carrying capacity of the environment,” Minister Tiilikainen adds.
Tools to move forward
The Key Projects on nutrient recycling have been coordinated as a joint effort by the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. According to an assessment commissioned by the ministries, the knowledge and best practices gained through the Key Projects must be disseminated more broadly.
The Ministry of the Environment has launched a three-year programme to enhance the effectiveness of water protection based on lessons learned in the Key Projects. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is currently renewing the EU’s agri-environmental scheme, which will bring the results of the Key Projects into broader use. The ministries are preparing an action plan for nutrient recycling for 2019–2030. The upcoming renewal of the EU’s Fertiliser Regulation will also lead to changes in the utilisation and recycling of nutrients.