China has attempted to lead the way, announcing strict regulations for the disposal of livestock waste in 2015, emphasising the need for farmers to recycle manure as a replacement for synthetic fertilisers. However, despite the threat of severe fines, critics still question whether these laws will prove effective.
Small-scale projects are under way, such as the efforts of a team of scientists from the University of Vienna who are partnering with various farms across Europe and helping them convert animal poo into paper. But while the potential of new revenue streams could spur more farmers worldwide into taking action to deal with waste, there remains a dire need for new policies, initiatives and conferences to discuss how to deal with the impending problem on a large scale.
In 2016, the Environmental Journal castigated “governmental apathy” surrounding the problem. Three years on, little has changed. “There’s a massive policy gap around the world on how to safely manage animal waste, despite all the risks it presents,” Brown says. “It’s a huge missing piece, and it’s been overlooked for so long. In the US, there’s very little regulation at all on how to deal with animal waste. That’s the same around the world. There’s no systematic approach to the safe management and reuse of this waste, even though it does end up getting into the environment and leads to downstream exposures to people.”