Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

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Practical information

  1. Composition of the study group
  2. Administrator / Assistant in charge: Gaia BOTTONI / Anna KHATCHATRIAN
  3. Contact 

Background

Urban wastewater is one of the main sources of water pollution if it is not collected and treated properly. The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive currently in force is more than 30 years old. Since its adoption the quality of European rivers, lakes and seas has greatly improved. EU countries have set up collecting systems and wastewater treatment plants with the help of EU funding. There is a high level of compliance with the Directive across the EU, with 98% of wastewater collected and 92% satisfactorily treated, according to the current coverage of the directive.

Yet, pollution remains that is not covered by the current rules and needs to be addressed to achieve a pollution-free environment by 2050. This includes pollution from smaller cities outside the scope of the Directive and pollution caused by storm water overflows. At present, micropollutants such as residues from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are also not covered. These residues are frequently found in all our water bodies and have a detrimental effect on nature. Yet, when these micro-pollutants end up in the environment, additional treatment is necessary to remove them again.

Wastewater treatment is one of the biggest consumers of energy in the public sector. The revised Directive therefore also sets an energy neutrality target for the sector.

Finally, recent experience has shown that viruses can be tracked with high reliability in wastewaters: this provides precious information for public health decisions. To be able to collect the necessary data has likewise required an update of the Directive.

The current revision of the Directive is in line with the results of a 2019 Evaluation, adapting it to the newest scientific knowledge.