Briefly about: Ecolabelling for soil improvers

In the European Union, 60 products have been awarded with the Ecolabel and 17 licenses have been issued for the product group “Growing media, soil improvers and mulch”.  Ecolabelled products are produced by companies in Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Greece, but there are no products in this group awarded with the Ecolabel in Latvia yet.

What are the products involved in the group “Growing media, soil improvers and mulch”? “Growing medium” is a material used as a substrate for root development, in which plants are grown and a “mineral growing medium” is a growing medium that consists totally of mineral constituents. A “soil improver” is a material added to soil in situ with the main function to maintain or improve the physical and/or chemical and/or biological properties of soil, with the exception of liming materials. Specifically, “organic soil improver” contains carbonaceous materials and its main function is to increase soil organic matter content.

To understand the difference between soil improver and fertilizer – the main function of an organic soil improver is increasing soil organic matter content, to improve soil properties, but the fertilizer is providing nutrients to plants. “Mulch” is a type of soil improver used as a protective covering placed around plants on the topsoil whose specific functions are to prevent the loss of moisture, control weed growth, and reduce soil erosion, and specifically “organic mulch” contains carbonaceous materials derived from biomass.

For growing media, soil improvers and mulch products the Ecolabel is awarded if products meet the requirements of the EU Commission Decision (EU) 2015/2099 (where criteria for this product group are listed).

EU Ecolabel criteria for “Growing Media, Soil Improvers and Mulch” can be divided into manufacturing criteria and use criteria.

Briefly about manufacturing criteria:

  • constituents – organic and/or mineral constituents must be used;
  • organic constituents – there is a certain list of allowed and not allowed organic constituents; the final product must not contain peat; also, the use of sludge is limited;
  • energy consumption and CO2 emissions for growing media – there is a certain threshold for energy consumption and CO2 emissions;
  • sources of mineral extraction – if minerals used as constituents for the final product are extracted from Natura 2000 network areas within the EU, extraction activities have been assessed and authorized;
  • recycled/recovered and organic materials in growing media – the product must contain as a minimum 30% of organic constituents or contain mineral constituents manufactured from a process using at least 30% of recycled/recovered specified materials;
  • restriction of hazardous substances – there is a specified limit of heavy metal element content, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon content; E. coli and Salmonella spp. pathogen content in the primary product; the final product cannot be classified as a hazardous product and mixture – classified as toxic, cancerogenic or mutagenic, toxic for reproduction, hazardous to the environment;
  • growing media features – there are specified electrical conductivity limits of the final product, sodium and chlorine content limits in the fresh product, and the pH range is specified from pH 4 to pH 7;
  • physical contaminants – glass, metal and plastic with a mesh size of >2 mm must not exceed 0,5%;
  • organic matter and dry matter – in soil improvers and mulch the dry matter content of the final product shall be at least 25% of the fresh weight;
  • viable weed seeds and plant propagules – there is a set limit of them in growing media and soil improvers.

Criteria for use:

  • plant response – the final products shall not adversely affect plant emergence or subsequent growth;
  • provision of information – the specified information criteria documents shall be provided with the product either on the packaging or in accompanying fact sheets;
  • information appearing on the EU Ecolabel – the optional label with text box shall contain certain text. Soil improvers and mulch product label shall include also text stating: “reduces soil and water pollution, by limiting heavy metals concentrations”.

End of use criteria states that the applicant must offer customers a structured collection and recycling service after product use.

The assessment and verification of EU Ecolabel criteria require product tests, which should be preferably performed by laboratories that meet the general requirements of EN ISO 17025 or equivalent, for that specific test. The criteria for each product group are revised every three/four years.