The Ruhrverband, acting as a water association responsible for integrated water resources management within the entire natural river basin of the Ruhr, operates a network of 83 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and connected sludge disposal facilities.
According to German regulations, the disposal of sewage sludge containing more than 5% of organic dry solids will be prohibited as of 1 June 2005. In Germany, the only future alternative to incineration will be the agricultural utilization of sludge. However, this way of sludge disposal is presently the subject of critical discussions in Germany because of the organic and inorganic toxic substances, which may be contained in sewage sludge, despite the fact that very stringent standards are to be met by agricultural uses. On the other hand, application of sewage sludge to agricultural land is explicitly supported by the European Sewage Sludge Directive 86/278/EEC.
In the face of this controversial situation the Ruhrverband has initiated, in 2000, the development of a comprehensive and sustainable sludge and waste disposal concept for all wastewater facilities it operates in the entire Ruhr River Basin. The concept includes de-central sludge digestion and dewatering and subsequent transport to two central sludge incineration plants. It is expected that in future not more than 5% of all sludges produced in Ruhrverband's WWTPs will be used in agriculture. That means, the major part of 95% will have to be incinerated.