On 26 October 2022, the EU Commission presented a proposal for a new Waste Water Directive. The proposal entails a tightening of the 1991 Waste Water Directive as it also includes small urban areas and has stricter requirements for collection, handling and treatment of waste water. The proposal also entails the inclusion of micropollutants and pollutants from pharmaceuticals in requirements for purification. In Sweden, the proposal can be expected to have a major impact on the municipalities in their capacity as principal for water supply and drainage and lead to an increased need for investment. The requirements will be gradually tightened, with the proposal's most ambitious phase to be implemented by 2040. Initial consideration of the proposal now awaits, which involves negotiations within the European Parliament and the European Council.
The current Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) was adopted in 1991 and constitutes a framework for regulation of collection, handling, treatment and discharge of waste water from urban areas, as well as discharge of biodegradable waste water from certain industrial sectors. An evaluation of the current Waste Water Directive was conducted in 2019 on behalf of the Commission. The evaluation concluded that pollutants from waste water had been significantly reduced since the introduction of the Waste Water Directive, but a number of remaining challenges were also identified.
What was specifically highlighted was that: (i) certain pollutants from urban areas were not covered by the Directive, (ii) the Directive did not use the sector's full potential to contribute to meet the EU's climate objectives, and (iii) governance of the actors within the sector is inadequate and uneven. In order to address these remaining challenges and achieve the EU's climate objectives, the Commission has now presented a proposal for changes in the Waste Water Directive.
In several respects, the proposal will entail a progressive development with more stringent requirements at certain stipulated times: 2030, 2035 and finally 2040, which will constitute the last phase in the progression.
PROPOSED CHANGES IN THE WASTE WATER DIRECTIVE
More urban areas to be included
At present the Directive is applied to urban areas with a minimum of 2,000 person equivalents (p.e.). Person equivalents is a unit of measurement, with one person equivalent corresponding to the amount of pollutants with which an average person contaminates the waste water per day. The proposal expands the Directive's area of application to include urban areas with a minimum of 1 000 p.e. by 2030. Moreover, it sets requirements that these urban areas shall be connected to collection systems where the waste water undergoes secondary purification (biological purification with a secondary sedimentation or another process that meets the requirements for purification).
Water management plans must be drawn up
Surface water flooding and run-off in urban areas constitutes a source of pollutants. To reduce these pollutants, it is proposed that member states be obliged to draw up water management plans for all urban areas with over 100,000 p.e., as well as all urban areas with over 10,000 p.e. in so far as there is an increased risk of flooding of the surface water and run-off system for the urban area. The plans must include preventive measures.
Adjustment of the limit values for nitrogen and phosphorus
It is proposed that stricter limit values are introduced for discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus that is released in the treatment of waste water. The limit values shall apply for large purification plants that treat over 100,000 p.e. and also for urban areas with over 10,000 p.e. in areas where there are eutrophication problems. In addition, it is proposed that higher requirements are placed on the degree of purification, and removal of the possibility of obtaining credits for nitrogen retention (the natural biochemical process that reduces the amount of nitrogen in water).
Micropollutants and increased producer responsibility
To reduce the amount of micropollutants, new limit values are being introduced, placing requirements on additional treatment of the waste water for large purification plants that treat pollutants over 100,000 p.e. and also for urban areas with over 10,000 p.e. where the micropollutants entail a risk for people's health or the environment.
It is proposed that increased producer responsibility is introduced for producers and importers of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Actors that produce or import these products must pay for measures to treat micropollutants in waste water. To avoid the treatment requirement, the actor must show that: i) it produces/imports less than two tonnes of products that are put onto the market annually, or ii) the products that producers put onto the market do not contribute to any micropollutants in the waste water.
It is proposed that energy neutrality is established at national level by 2040 for purification plants over 10,000 p.e and that this energy transition shall take place progressively. By 2030, 50 per cent of the energy must be produced from renewable sources within the purification plants, and by 2035 the proportion shall constitute 75 per cent. The assessment is that there are good conditions for the waste water purification sector to both reduce energy consumption and produce renewable energy within the purification plants. To achieve energy neutrality, all purification plants with over 10,000 p.e. will need to conduct energy inspections.
Tracking viruses using health parameters
With the aim of being able to detect outbreaks, including viruses, it is proposed that the member states track the presence of certain health parameters in waste water. To be able to achieve the aim of the tracking, the member states shall also establish collaboration between authorities for public health and waste water, similarly to that which is currently the case for coronavirus.
Sanctions and compensation
The proposal also places requirements on introduction of sanctions in connection with breaches of national rules that are based on the Directive. The magnitude of the sanctions shall be based on the salary or turnover respectively of the physical person or legal entity. It is also proposed that rules are introduced regarding compensation for individuals who suffer damage as a result of breaches of a national regulation that is based on the Directive.
Besides the changes detailed above, the proposal also places requirements on improved monitoring and reporting of the pollutants covered by the Directive, as well as provision of certain information to the public. The latter includes the fact that persons who are connected to collection systems must be able to access information on how the handling of waste water relates to the Directive.
IMPACT FOR MUNICIPALITIES AND THE COMMERCIAL SECTOR
The actors that the proposal will principally affect are those within the waste water purification sector that collect, treat and monitor discharge of waste water. Among other things,the principals for water supply and drainage, i.e. the municipalities, will need to make investments to be able to handle nutrients, treat micropollutants and achieve energy neutrality. The technology industry and the innovation that exists within the sector is expected to be stimulated by the stricter requirements. The Directive's final phase must be implemented in its entirety by 2040. The initial phases of the Directive must be implemented prior to that, with 2025, 2030 and 2035 as the proposed dates. The majority of the requirements for actors with large purification plants will be implemented before 2040, which means that investments will need to be made in good time before that.
Sweden has been far-sighted regarding its water management plans and introduced new regulations in the Public Water Services Act. The Act contains an obligation for each municipality to draw up a water services plan that details how water supply and drainage purification plants shall function in the event of torrential rain. The obligation enters into force at the turn of the year 2023/2024 and will probably meet the obligation in accordance with the proposed change of the Waste Water Directive.
In recent years the Commission has criticised the fact that Sweden credits itself natural nitrogen purification (retention) in lakes, which means that lower requirements are placed on the technical nitrogen purification in the purification plants. The Commission considers that the method of calculation might conflict with the current Waste Water Directive. The proposal clarifies that Sweden will not be able to credit itself natural nitrogen purification in the future. Sweden will consequently be hit particularly hard if the current Waste Water Directive is changed in accordance with the proposal. This is because in such an event, several municipalities will need to make greater improvements to the technology in existing purification plants in order to meet the new, stricter requirements than actors in other member countries.
If it is adopted in its current form, the proposal will entail major changes to the current Waste Water Directive, both regarding the Directive's area of application and which requirements are placed on municipalities and other actors within the waste water purification sector. The proposal is progressive and in part includes requirements that are tightened on specific dates, in part requirements that expand the Directive's area of application to include more actors or purification plants. The actors within the waste water purification sector will need to make significant investments in order to meet the proposed requirements. As the planned implementation time is relatively short, there is reason for the actors to already have the proposal in mind when planning and implementing investments in their purification plants. Municipalities where there are large purification plants should pay particular attention as the majority of investments in these purification plants must be implemented as early as 2030. In other words, actors within the waste water purification sector should stay regularly updated regarding the ongoing work on the proposal.
The first reading of the proposal has commenced in the European Council and will shortly also get under way in the European Parliament. Once this reading has taken place, it will be possible to say with more certainty whether the proposal will be adopted and if its current formulation will be retained.
Lindahl will therefore continue to monitor the work on the new directive and has reason to return to the topic. Do you want to know more or did the article give rise to other questions? You are very welcome to contact any of us or your normal contact person at Lindahl.