- Better monitoring of chemical pollutants, pathogens and antimicrobial resistance
- Producers of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and member states to finance costs of additional treatment for micro-pollutants
- Wider reuse of treated urban wastewater to prevent water scarcity
Parliament and Council agreed on Monday on new rules for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban wastewater to better protect the environment and human health.
Negotiators agreed to apply secondary treatment (i.e., the removal of biodegradable organic matter) to urban wastewater, before it is discharged into the environment, to all agglomerations of 1.000 population equivalent (p.e.) or more by 2035. By 2039, EU countries will have to ensure the application of tertiary treatment (i.e., the removal of nitrogen and phosphorus) in all plants covering 150.000 p.e. and above, and by 2045 in plants covering 10.000 p.e. and above. An additional treatment removing a broad spectrum of micropollutants ('quaternary treatment') will be mandatory for all plants over 150.000 p.e. (and over 10.000 p.e. based on a risk assessment) by 2045.
The agreed text requires member states to promote the reuse of treated wastewater from all urban wastewater treatment plants where appropriate, especially in water-stressed areas. Measures on reuse should be considered in national strategies on water resilience.
Better monitoring of wastewater content
Negotiators agreed to strengthen the monitoring of various public health parameters (such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants, poliovirus, influenza viruses and emerging pathogens), as well as chemical pollutants, including so-called “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS) and microplastics. Antimicrobial resistance will also be monitored in urban wastewater for agglomerations of 100 000 p.e. and above.
Reducing emissions towards energy neutrality
The agreed text underlines that the urban wastewater treatment sector must play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping the EU achieve its climate neutrality objective. It introduces an energy neutrality target, meaning that urban wastewater treatment plants will have to progressively increase the share of renewable energy used each year (20% by 2030; 40% by 2035; 70% by 2040 and 100% by 2045).
Polluters must pay
In line with the ‘polluter pays principle’, negotiators agreed on introducing extended producer responsibility (EPR) for medicinal products for human use and cosmetic products, to cover the costs of additional treatment (quaternary treatment) to remove micro-pollutants from urban wastewater. The deal foresees that at least 80% of the costs will be covered by producers, complemented by national financing in order to avoid unintended consequences on the availability, affordability and accessibility of vital products, in particular medicines.
Rapporteur Nils Torvalds (Renew, FI) said: “The deal we reached today is a breakthrough for significantly improved water management and wastewater treatment standards in Europe, especially with new rules on removing micro-pollutants coming from medicines and personal care products. We have ensured that the impact of this legislation on the affordability of medicines will not be disproportionate. We also make sure that harmful chemicals such as PFAS will be monitored and better addressed looking forward.”
Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before it can enter into force.
In October 2022, the Commission tabled a proposal to revise the urban wastewater treatment directive, aligning it with EU's policy objectives on climate action, circular economy and pollution reduction. The legislation is one of the key initiatives under EU’s zero pollution action plan for air, water and soil.