EU Drafts ‘Polluter Pays’ Rules Requiring Companies to Pay for Microplastics Cleanup
The EU has drafted rules that will require companies linked to microplastic pollution to partially pay for cleanup. Companies will have to pay at least 80% of microplastic recovery costs, while the government will subsidize the rest.
The proposed plan identifies specific industries that would need to help pay for the cleanup, also known as quaternary treatment. The industries outlined include cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
According to the EU, the drafted rule would be the first time the “polluter pays” principle would be enacted in the water sector, and the goal is to place the financial responsibility primarily on those responsible for pollution, rather than drawing money from public funds to pay for cleanups.
“With the agreement reached today, we ensure not only cleaner water for all Europeans but so much more — better access to sanitation, implementation of the polluter pays principle and energy autonomy,” Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said in a statement. “These changes will completely revolutionise the sector and make it more resilient for decades to come.”
In September 2023, the EU took efforts toward reducing microplastic pollutants by adopting a law that phases out microplastics that have been intentionally added to products, such as microbeads or glitter in cosmetics and toys or microplastic infill material used in synthetic sports turf. According to the EU, the rule will reduce microplastic waste by half a million metric tons.
The EU is now going a step further in its mission to minimize microplastic waste by drafting rules to hold companies responsible for microplastic removal. The measures are part of the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan, which has set a target to reduce microplastic pollution 30% by 2030.
The latest drafted rule, which would revise the EU’s existing Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, would also promote more monitoring for PFAS and health-related parameters — such as anti-microbial resistance or SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) — in water.
Further, the directive plans to improve stormwater management for both small and large cities, citing heavy rainfall events linked to climate change. The plan also involves improving wastewater quality for reuse.
As for next steps, the new directive will need to be officially adopted. Once it is published in the Official Journal of the EU, the rule will take effect 20 days later.
“The deal we reached today is a breakthrough for significantly improved water management and wastewater treatment standards in Europe, especially with new rules on removing micropollutants coming from medicines and personal care products,” said Nils Torvalds, Member of the European Parliament from Finland, as reported by The Guardian. “We have ensured that the impact of this legislation on the affordability of medicines will not be disproportionate.”