EPSU: “Don’t water down the polluter-pays principle”

Joint statement EPR scheme

(22 November 2023) EPSU joins other organisations to say: “Don’t water-down the polluter-pays principle”!

EPSU has signed a joint statement in support of the polluter-pays principle in new wastewater treatment legislation.

The European Commission has adopted a proposal to upgrade the collection and treatment of wastewater, which would make companies and industries contribute to the costs of treatment plants.

The pharmaceutical and cosmetic sectors are the main actors involved in the contamination of wastewater, leaving micro-pollutants in the environment with serious consequences, including for human health. Many cases of polluted tap water in Europe have already provoked scandal but unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, following the discovery of PFAS pollution in the Chièvres region, Belgian authorities have stated that between 2024 and 2028 fifteen new synthetic substances will be released in the environment in Europe, making it “a colossal challenge” in terms of the scientific, legislator and financial resources needed to tackle their spread and contamination.

In most cases, there is no legislative framework that regulates the production, consumption and disposal of these substances because the time needed to study each one of them is long, and companies keep developing and synthesizing new molecules.

Industries dealing with chemicals are in fact responsible for the emission of many dangerous substances, including PFAS, which take centuries or even millennia to be disposed in the environment and that represent a major risk of diseases like cancers.

It is estimated that the lack of treatment of such chemicals by companies in the sector cause a burden of between 52 and 84 billion Euros on the European health care system per year.

In addition, there is evidence that many European companies have started to invest more and more in lobbying against the wastewater treatment Directive since it was first proposed by the European Commission, and in convincing the Commission to exempt their products from the proposal.

The case of the U.S. can teach us something: from 2019, companies manufacturing PFAS products in the U.S have spent more than 100 million dollars lobbying against the numerous bills that Congress approved to defend the health of Americans.

The PFAS sector was backed by the oil lobby - notably one of the most powerful in the U.S. - since the chemicals are used during the extraction processes thanks to their waterproof characteristic.

Two of the most influential sectors in America, which represent some of the biggest companies like DuPont, joining in a common action against a series of laws aimed at safeguarding human health represents a serious risk, which must not be replicated in Europe.

The polluter-pays principle is at the core of the European Union’s environmental policy and is the main concept behind the Extended Polluter Responsibility (EPR) scheme presented by the Commission.

The proposal has now to be examined by the European Council, where some countries have expressed opposition to the EPR scheme, and by the European Parliament, in which a 20% national co-financing quote has been proposed.

EPSU, as well as the other signatories of the joint statement, call for a legislation that holds polluters responsible for the environmental damage they cause and makes them pay through contributions to wastewater collection and treatment costs.

We consider it unacceptable that the companies remain unaccountable for making big profits on production activities that cause huge damage to the environment and human health. That’s why we are united in supporting a Directive that regulates the entire sector throughout the entire value chain, without exceptions or watered-down versions.

The polluter-pays principle has been the cornerstone of environmental legislation since 2007, as cited in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and should remain the guiding principle for present and future proposals, in order to guarantee a fair and equitable transition towards a toxic-free Europe.

For the joint statement


Aqua Publica Europea
Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European Anglers Alliance
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)
European Water Association (EWA)
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe
SGI Europe
Surfrider Foundation
Water Europe