Making polluter pay is cheaper than treatment for wastewater

European wastewater targets will best be met through a 'polluter pays' approach based on taxes and levies, a report by the European Environment Agency has found.

Looking at policy successes and failures in Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, the study – Effectiveness of Urban Wastewater Treatment Policies in Selected Countries – explains the relationship between effective wastewater management and the policies behind it.

Water pollution caused by ‘untreated’ wastewater continues to be a problem despite three decades of efforts to clean up and prevent it, and several EU Member States have not satisfied the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive originally adopted in 1991.

The study finds that the Dutch model, based on high water pollution levies and full costing of sewerage, is the most cost-effective of all examples.

It goes on to suggest that the absence of water pollution taxes in France and Spain will result in these countries failing to reach the 2005 targets cost-effectively.

Denmark complies fully with the Directive, with discharges decreasing by 90%.

“The Dutch example shows the financial benefits of finding the ‘upstream’ solution to tackling wastewater pollution rather than paying for clean-up at the end,” said Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

The report will be of huge importance to new Member States as they have only until 2010 to comply and will need considerable support to meet the target. In several Member States, water pollution control costs have absorbed more than 50% of all environmental investment in recent decades.

New Member States are eligible for considerable EU subsidies from EU Cohesion and Structural Funds but it is estimated that increased support of between ¬40 – 50 per person will be needed if these countries are to meet the deadlines.

However, as Professor McGlade warns: “The risk is that the new Member States will be tempted to build treatment plants instead of taking the more cost-effective path of tackling the problem at source.”

David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie