October 8, 2013

Forest certification and the application of sludge from pulp and paper mills in forestry

Acréscimo is a Portuguese non-governmental organization which aims to promote sustainable and responsible investments in forests and uncultivated areas. The association has been communicating, in several media resources, its concerns related to the need to increase the credibility of forest certification among the population. This organization believes that the certified entities, especially the industrial companies that manage forest areas, have a decisive contribution to this objective.

The recent suspension of certificates issued under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Portugal is our main concern as it corresponds to a very significant part of the Portuguese forest area certified by this scheme. Besides that, we also face the weakly regulated and supervised actions of industrial waste recovery through forestry fertilization programs, specifically the use of sludge from pulp and paper mills.

Pulp and paper industry, in the course of their activity, is responsible for producing a large amount of waste (estimated at approximately 48 tons per 100 tons of pulp produced) or inorganic (ashes, dregs and grits), or organics (sludge) and other sub products. The application of pulp and paper mills sludge on forest soil fertilization emerges as an alternative method of disposing of industrial waste. However, the application of sewage sludge should only be made ​​after a detailed study of its composition and after a proper characterization of the area for its application.

The Portuguese legal framework for the application of sludge in soils results from the implementation of the 1986 EU Sludge Directive (86/27/EEC). The law imposes the obligation to carry out frequent testing on the sludge or mixture of sludge, and on the soil and the water on the places where they are to be spread and incorporated. It imposes limits to the concentrations of heavy metals, organic compounds, dioxins and micro-organisms. It also determines the cases of prohibition in the application of sewage sludge, among others , injecting sludge in soils without agronomic value, burying sludge in soils (other than landfill), apply near water lines and its uptake, or adverse weather conditions ( between November and January, unless otherwise justified). The cellulosic sludge should be spread and incorporated into the soil within 48 hours of its extraction, using the appropriate means/action to ensure a proper soil surface mobilization.

The sludge producer, even if their forestry application occurs on lands of others, will always be co-responsible for possible harmful effects of its application in soil or anywhere else.

With an annual growth estimated at 25% for the paper industry, the production of sludge is projected to increase between 48 and 86%.

It is noted that concerns about the legal requirements for use of sludge and ashes in forest soils, are based on claims submitted to the competent National Authorities, involving Portucel Soporcel company that owns about 122.000 hectares of certified forest, ie more than 50% of the FSC certified forest area in Portugal.

Application of sludge from pulp and paper mills in eucalyptus forest without soil incorporation.

Therefore, it is important to clarify that the extent of a procedure of organic fertilization on forest soils is not conditioned by the growing need for disposal of industrial waste, with corresponding adverse effects especially for rural populations and habitats.

Acréscimo suggests the opening of these forested areas to the public visitation and experts’ evaluation.

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