EU votes to update rules on the treatment of urban wastewater 

Since regulations on urban wastewater treatment were introduced in the 1990s, water quality across the European Union has improved substantially. 

Presently, 98% of wastewater is collected and treated according to EU standards. But. despite this progress, instances of insufficient wastewater treatment persist, and the situation is being made worse by challenging-to-treat chemicals like PFAS, known as ‘forever chemicals’, which continue to impact both the environment and the health of Europeans.

In a recent development, the European Parliament voted this week to update regulations concerning the collection, treatment, and discharge of urban wastewater. 

These updated rules aim to improve environmental protection and human health standards. However, local authorities across Europe have expressed concerns about the costs involved. 

According to the updated rules, by 2035, all settlements with a minimum of 1,000 inhabitants will need to ensure the removal of biodegradable organic matter, such as food waste or faeces. 

In addition to this, towns exceeding 150,000 inhabitants must have systems in place to eliminate nitrogen and phosphorus by 2039, with towns of 10,000 people or more to follow suit by 2045. Municipalities with populations over 150,000 will also need to subject micropollutants to advanced treatment by 2045.

The revised directive will mean more monitoring for infectious agents found in wastewater, including viruses and pathogens, alongside chemical pollutants and microplastics. 

Furthermore, it introduces targets for renewable energy use in the operation of urban wastewater treatment plants, aiming for 100% renewable-powered treatment by 2045.

The directive also urges Member States, particularly those facing water stress, to promote the reuse of treated wastewater as part of national water resilience strategies. 

To cover the expenses associated with additional micropollutant treatment in urban wastewater, the directive incorporates the principle of extended producer responsibility (EPR) for cosmetic and medicinal products for human use. Producers of these products will bear at least 80% of the costs of these new measures, with the remainder covered by national funding.

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