Firms responsible for microplastics clean-up under new wastewater rules

The EU is to introduce new draft rules which will mandate cosmetic companies to bear 80% of wastewater treatment costs for microplastic pollution.

In brief:
  • EU negotiators agree on a new wastewater treatment directive, focusing on microplastic pollution from cosmetics.
  • Cosmetic companies to cover 80% of additional cleanup costs, aligning with the European Green Deal.
  • Directive expands to include smaller communities, aiming for energy-neutral wastewater treatment plants by 2045.
In detail:

The European Union has introduced draft rules that will require cosmetic companies to cover 80% of the additional costs associated with cleaning up microplastics and other micropollutants from urban wastewater.

This initiative, part of the broader European Green Deal, aims to address the increasing concern over microplastic pollution and its impact on the environment.

The provisional agreement, reached between the European Council and Parliament, revises the urban wastewater treatment directive to include stringent measures against pollutants, particularly those emanating from the cosmetics industry.

According to Alain Maron, Minister of the Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium, this agreement aligns with Europe's zero-pollution objective. “It paves the way for the highest standards to be set for treating urban wastewater and monitoring it so that it does not release harmful substances, like microplastics or PFAS, into the environment,” he said.

Under the new rules, governments will cover the remaining costs to prevent essential products from becoming too expensive or scarce. Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, highlighted the directive's role in ensuring cleaner water for Europeans, emphasising the importance of implementing the polluter pays principle and achieving energy autonomy in the wastewater treatment sector.

The directive broadens its scope to include all agglomerations of 1,000 population equivalent (p.e.) and above, with a deadline of 2035 for establishing urban wastewater collection systems. By 2045, urban wastewater treatment plants are required to become energy-neutral, utilising renewable energy sources and conducting regular energy audits.

Cosmetics Europe expressed concerns over the workability of the proposed system, arguing that it lacks a sound scientific basis and fairness for economic operators. The association advocates for a sector-based approach to be reconsidered in favour of a defined list of micropollutants to identify responsible companies more accurately.

The provisional agreement awaits endorsement from member states' representatives within the Council and the Parliament's environment committee. If approved, it will be formally adopted by the EU Parliament and the Council before entering into force.

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