Cosmetics makers made to pay under revised EU wastewater directive

By Julia Wray | Published: 31-Jan-2024

New rules to implement a ‘polluter pays’ principle targeting pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries

A newly revised European Union (EU) wastewater directive will implement a ‘polluter pays’ principle for the first time in the water sector, which could cost cosmetics manufacturers dear. 

Under the revision of the region’s Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, for which a provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the European Council was reached this week, the most polluting industries – cosmetics and pharmaceuticals – will be required to pay at least 80% of the cost for micropollutant removal.

The new directive will require the removal of more nutrients and micropollutants from urban wastewater. 

It will introduce systematic monitoring of microplastics in the inlets and outlets of urban wastewater treatment plants, as well as in the sludge. 

The directive will also cover additional monitoring of ‘forever chemicals', such as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), to improve existing knowledge on their dissemination through urban wastewater.

The revision of the 1991 directive is one of the key deliverables under the EU’s zero-pollution action plan.

The Parliament and the Council will formally have to adopt the new directive before it can enter into force, which will be 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the EU. 

Micropollutants, including microplastics and PFAS, have been subject to phase-outs by industry and global governments.

Last year, under chemicals regulation REACH, the EU adopted restrictions on intentionally added microplastics

The adopted restriction covers all synthetic polymer particles below 5mm that are organic, insoluble and resist degradation, including (in cosmetics) microplastics used for exfoliation and for obtaining a specific texture, fragrance or colour. 

This week also saw New Zealand become one of the first countries in the world to ban the use of PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’ for their resistance to degradation. 

PFAS have also been targeted in Washington, under the US’ state’s Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, with a ban slated for 2025. 

Meanwhile, in September last year, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) announced that it had received more than 5,600 comments on its PFAS restriction proposal for the EU, with comments currently under review by its Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) scientific committees.

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