This week the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted in favour of a report on the European Commission’s proposal for the revision of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD).
As a result, producers of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics will have to finance costs of additional treatment for micro-pollutants in water.
MEPs have agreed to set up a system of extended producer responsibility (EPR) targeting medicinal products for human use and cosmetic products, which have been identified as the main sources of micro-pollutants in urban wastewater and require additional treatment.
Member states will have to strengthen the monitoring of various elements at the inlets and outlets of urban wastewater treatment plants, including numerous pollutants, microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS).
“Concerned with the workability of the proposed system”
Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, said it had a number of concerns about the report.
“The impact assessment accompanying the proposal does not provide clear scientific reasoning as to why the cosmetics sector has been chosen,” said a spokesperson for Cosmetics Europe.
They continued: “The European cosmetics sector fully supports the overall objectives of the EPR scheme and is ready to take its responsibility and duly contribute to the upgrade of urban wastewater treatment plants. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance that any financial contribution is based on the principle of a fair distribution of the burden between all polluters.”
Cosmetics Europe said it welcomed the ENVI Committee’s recognition of the fact that micropollutants can come from different sources. However, it believed that a sector-based approach is not fit for the purpose and that a defined list of micropollutants would be a better means to identify the companies whose products contain such substances and who need to contribute to EPR schemes.
The cosmetics trade association said it also believed that the revision of the Directive should address the aquatic pollution and not threaten the safe use of chemicals.
“We are concerned that the definition of ‘micropollutants’ has not been significantly improved by the ENVI Committee. This definition remains based on criteria that are too broad,” said the spokesperson.
“This would result in the inclusion within the scope of the definition of several substances, such as biodegradable substances, that do not pose a problem in the current urban wastewater treatment systems.”
Cosmetics Europe also said it believed that the exoneration criterion put forward is too restrictive and that some substances that are already removed through the first three treatment stages would still be considered as micropollutants.
It said it also regretted that the ENVI Committee did not tackle the provisions on producers’ contributions. According to the legislative proposal, financial contribution for each producer should be determined based on the amount of the product placed on the market.
“We believe that EPR fees should rather be based on the volume of micropollutants contained in the products placed on the market. If not, this would lead to unequal treatment of producers as the amount of the product is not directly proportional to the volume of micropollutants that a product might contain. This is for instance the case for diluted and concentrated products,” continued the spokesperson.
“The European cosmetic sector is, therefore, overall concerned with the workability of the proposed system which is not based on sound scientific justifications and does not ensure fairness for economic operators.”
“Would require serious delays for the legislation”
In response to the comments from Cosmetics Europe, MEP Nils Torvalds (RENEW EUROPE / SFP), who led the process, said while he had taken the concerns of the Cosmetics sector into consideration, that “introducing a list of micro-pollutants would not be feasible in the time available before the entry into force of the Extended Producer Responsibility and would therefore have required serious delays for the legislation as a whole.”
“This would also have meant more delays of investment security,” he stated.
Torvalds said the European Parliament’s approach of focusing on sectors instead of micro-pollutant producers gave more certainty and predictability for both the sectors included in the EPR scheme, as well as for the water sector.
He also said that the Commission has been delegated the power to add more sectors to the EPR scheme following impact assessments once the EPR is up and running, and Member States can add sectors nationally, if the national context requires so.
“Furthermore, having a burden-sharing approach to the financing of the upgrade to quaternary treatment, ensures accessibility and availability of products on the EU market, while it appreciates that only two sectors are affected from the entry into force,” he said.
Parliament is scheduled to adopt its negotiating mandate in October and talks with national governments on the final form of the law will start once the Council has adopted its position.