Our cornerstone – a waste-free future

When our CEO Jaakko Kuntonen established Nanopar Ltd., he envisioned a waste-free future – a concept that he started to develop already decades ago when living in Tanzania. In this eastern African country material was efficiently circulated for reuse and only few things were wasted for disposal.

Now, forty years later Jaakko’s vision guides us through our work at Nanopar. Waste-free future has not become only our core value, but it is our aspirational value as well. In practice we work to improve sludge and digestate treatment, to enhance nutrient recovery and to have a domestic, sustainable alternatives for mineral fertilizers. All this having circular economy principles in mind.

The aim for zero waste is also why we think that the development work of sludge-based recycled fertilizers should be aimed at processing all of sludge instead of separating and processing just nutrients.

The fear for harmful substances in sewage sludge has boosted the idea of nutrient separation instead of the complete use of sludge. For instance, sewage sludge contains substances such as PFAS, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, drugs and microplastics. If nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus in the form of struvite – could be separated from sludge, harmful substances would stay in the remaining biomass. The biomass is however organic and as organic material it would improve the work of nutrients in soil. Further, these separation technologies are expensive and most of all, they still leave the remaining solid matter – waste – in our hands. What are we going to do with the remaining biomass after nutrient separation? Burn it with high carbon emissions?

The fear for harmful substances is understandable but exaggerated. Already extensive studies have been and are being conducted about sewage sludge-based fertilizers, and the message is clear: already now it is safe to use them. For example, in Finland the heavy metal concentrations in the analyzed sludge samples are clearly below the limit values set by law. The amounts of medical substances are within the measurement tolerances. Additionally, a recent pilot research with Lappeenranta Technical University showed that our sludge treatment process removes most of the microplastics in sludge.

We argue that the best solution for nutrient recovery is to focus research, money, and time on studying the removal of harmful substances so that the entire solid material can be circulated and reused in the safest possible manner. Going on the path of nutrient separation would mean sludge is still considered mostly as waste.

We dream of a world without waste and our mission is to make sure that it also includes sludge.