September 10, 2014

FSC and PEFC do not guarantee the monitoring of waste disposal in certified forests

For a year, Acréscimo has been requesting to visit places where industrial wastes have been disposed on certified forests soils, managed by pulp and paper companies. This has not been authorized yet.

Acréscimo also developed contacts with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), to determine their position on this matter. PEFC has voiced no clarification. FSC International responded, however the information conveyed seems contrary to the practice evidenced nationally.

Although being in Portugal for over a decade, the evidence of motorization of the waste disposal in certified forests has not been part of the agenda in the Audits performed under the FSC and PEFC schemes.

In addition to the environmental impacts associated with this practice, the consequences of application of industrial waste in forestry can contribute harmful for public health.

The possibility of eliminating waste on soils is framed by Directive 86/278/EEC, Council of June 12 (Sewage Sludge Directive), lately transposed into the Portuguese legal regime through Decree-Law No. 276/2009 of October 2.

By implementing the Sewage Sludge Directive, Portugal has the obligation to present triennial monitoring reports, as described in Article 5 of Directive 91/692/EEC of the Council of 23 December. There’s no knowledge of any reports produced after 2009.

In Portugal, the Ministry of Environment supervises waste management, but several studies seriously question the effectiveness of their performance. These studies reveal the lack of information regarding the destiny of the waste, of about 50% of the waste produced in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture maintains that the amounts of waste applied to soils are guided by the precepts of the official manual, which however does not cover forest species. Regarding the eventual supervision activities undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture in the application of waste on soils, there’s no evidence of the existence of public reports related to the forests surfaces managed by major industrial players, as the Portucel Soporcel and Altri.

In supervision actions, it’s important to consider not only the followed procedures on the application of waste on soils, but mainly the subsequent monitoring of potential impacts on ecosystems and to rural populations.

Despite of the customers’ benefits of purchasing products from certified forest, either the FSC or PEFC have not given assurances regarding the monitoring of potential impacts associated with the application of waste on certified forests, especially on forests managed or owned by industrial groups who also produces such waste. Systematically, they demonstrate to ignore the situation - in the case of PEFC - or express major weakness in their performance - as the case of the FSC. These attitudes generate strong doubts about their commitment regarding the goals and standards their own certification schemes had defined. It should be noted that these industry groups represent more than 60% of forests certified by FSC and PEFC schemes in Portugal.

Despite its presence in Portugal for many years, only this year (2014), and after the intervention of Acréscimo, FSC Portugal claimed to initiate the monitoring of the application of waste on certified forests. However, this unique action is clearly insufficient. The issue, in accordance with the FSC International, requires continuous monitoring applications, right from the moment FSC or PEFC certifies the entities that practice application of residues on soils under their management.

Documentation produced for the European Commission reports several concerns about the application of these wastes on soils related to the level of nitrogen and phosphorus, cadmium and zinc, other inorganic and organic contaminants, gas that affects global warming and odors.

To be consistent with the objectives and guarantees that they claim to support before the Society, either FSC or PEFC must ensure the existence of instruments for continuous monitoring on certified forest areas, subject of to the application of municipal and industrial waste. Their actions must be supported by scientific knowledge produced by independent entities, based on national ecosystems. That does not happen today.

The Portuguese government forecasts for 2020 a production of 750,000 tons of sewage sludge, 78,57% more than in 2010, with the application of 50% on agroforestry soils. Other EU Members are more restrictive regarding the application of these wastes on soils, or not even consider its application, as in Netherlands. In Portugal, the pressure for the application of these wastes on agroforestry soils has been increasing significantly. The estimative of sewage sludge production in 1995 was 145,855 tons, with the application of 60% on agroforestry crops. In 2005 the estimate value pointed to the 401,017 tons of sewage sludge with 56% applied on agroforestry crops. The regions North, Centre, Lisbon and Tejo Valley are particularly prominent in this matter.

With the announced increase of industrial capacity in the pulp and paper industry in Portugal, responsible for more than 60% of the certified forest area in the country, the pressure on FSC and PEFC is definitely assured.

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