21 January 2019 | Reading 4 mins.

On water polluter responsibility

Bruno Tisserand
EurEau President
Water operators have one goal: to keep water safe and clean.

European water operators spend millions of euros to remove contaminants from water resources to provide water supply. These pollutants can enter the water cycle through many means, and once there, can pose a risk to human and environmental health.

The cost of removing contaminants is passed on to the consumer when laws and common sense say that the polluters should pay. It’s not just the water operators who believe this; the EU established these principles in its underlying treaties – these treaties however are not fully implemented.

The Polluter Pays, Control at Source and the Precautionary Principles constitute the underlying philosophy behind key water legislation, such as the EU Water Framework Directive. If they were implemented, we would reduce the level of contaminants entering the water cycle. When these principles are not used, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) should be enforced to make the polluter pay.

If approved with its initial ambition level, the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive will make a significant step towards reducing the amount of waste that can end up in the environment by combining control at source measures with awareness-raising, labelling
and extended producer responsibility schemes.

We have to look beyond this. The Single Use Plastics Directive looks at end-of-life products that end up in the environment through littering and other careless behaviour. However, public attention is shifting to micro- pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals and biocides, and microplastics released by diverse products during their life cycle. A new type of EPR is needed, looking at the full-life cycle of products and effectively retracing the responsible manufacturers.

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