In October 2022, the European Commission published its proposal for the revision of the Urban Waste Water Directive as part of the EU REFIT process. The 30-year-old Directive is to be adapted to the latest state of the art technology, current challenges of the climate crisis and the Green Deal. AK supports the project, but also points out necessary improvements.
The aim is to protect the environment from harmful effects caused by the discharge of municipal and industrial wastewater. The focus is on filtering micro-pollutants and micro-plastics through the construction of a "quaternary treatment". However, targets for achieving energy neutrality in waste water treatment plants by 2040 and further stricter rules for the circular economy are also planned.
Waste water disposal as a municipal service
Public services such as water supply and waste water disposal are indispensable for the population. However, the planned innovations pose financial challenges for the municipalities. The Commission estimates the total costs of the necessary measures at more than 3.8 billion euros per year, with 51% of the costs being borne by consumers, 22% by the public sector and 27% by industry. For AK, it is important that the funding of public services will not become subject to EU budget rules, i.e. that the necessary investments are facilitated by introducing a ”golden investment rule”. It must continue to be possible to provide waste water services at affordable prices; this must not be jeopardised by innovations.
Tackling micro-pollutants and microplastics at source
With the revision of the Directive, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle are to be given greater consideration in the future. This is to be realised through extended producer responsibility for the product groups ‘medicinal products’ and ‘personal care products’. Producers will be obliged to finance a more extensive waste water treatment ("quaternary treatment"). However, the new AK EUROPA Position Paper emphasises that pollutants should in principle be removed at source and not only by "end-of-pipe solutions". The focus should be on product design (eco-design) rather than waste removal. Therefore, the systems for collecting funds must be designed in such a way that producers receive a direct economic signal to avoid polluting substances. In the case of producer responsibility organisations, it must be ensured that the responsibility and control of these organisations are in public hands and that industry does not have a say in the distribution of funds. Research is therefore also called upon to develop substances that have no negative effects on water quality.
Further important remarks from the point of view of AK
The improved access to basic sanitation for all people provided for in the Directive is expressly welcomed. This would finally implement a long-standing demand of the workers' representatives. The obligation for sewage treatment plant operators to inform consumers about waste water treatment is also viewed positively. However, it must be ensured that this information can be published not only online, but also without justification via other formats (e.g. newspaper, notice board at the municipality, invoice, etc.). AK is committed to the objectives of the European Green Deal. Further waste water treatment ("quaternary treatment") will require more energy, therefore clear targets for more energy efficiency and energy saving are needed here for all sectors.
AK EUROPA: Position on the proposal for a revised Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive
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European Commission: Commission proposes rules for cleaner air and water
European Commission: Proposal for a Directive concerning urban wastewater treatment
European Commission: REFIT- making EU law simpler, less costly and future proof